How Detroit Tigers’ Jonathan Schoop stayed ready, and where backup catcher race stands

Detroit Free Press

Evan Petzold | Detroit Free Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — Detroit Tigers second baseman Jonathan Schoop is thankful for the Curacao National Team.

The 29-year-old, waiting in his home country for a work visa, missed more than two weeks of spring training. Upon his arrival, Scoop needed to go through the COVID-19 intake screening process and quarantine. He was fully cleared Thursday to join team activities.

“I signed late and the visa issues took two to three weeks to get approved to get the petition,” Schoop said Sunday. “Then, I had to go get it. That’s why it took so long.”

To stay fresh, Schoop — who signed a one-year, $4.5 million contract in early February — met up with the Curacao National Team. He took live batting practice and went through infield drills. He knew it wouldn’t be long before he entered the Tigers’ facility in Lakeland.

“I wasn’t sitting around,” Schoop said. “I would go there, practice every day and see pitching.”

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Curacao, a small country with a population of about 150,000, is north of the Venezuelan coast and a constituent country of the Netherlands. Despite its small land size, less square milage than Chicago but slightly larger than Detroit, the island breeds baseball talent: Schoop, Jurickson Profar, Andrelton Simmons, Kenley Jansen and Ozzie Albies are natives and active MLB players.

Schoop was practicing with the national team as it geared up for games and tournaments.

“It’s different, too, because when you step in there, they want to strike you out,” Schoop said. “Stepping into the box, I was trying to see some pitching. They were trying to strike me out all the time. So, it was good competition.”

[ Tigers’ Jonathan Schoop will do anything to ‘prove myself’ in 2021 ]

Last year, Schoop hit .278 with eight home runs and 23 RBIs in 44 games. He had his best season since making the All-Star Game in 2017 with the Baltimore Orioles, when he recorded a .293 batting average, 32 homers and 105 RBIs in 160 games.

Schoop was a mainstay at second base for the Tigers in 2020. Depending on how this year’s roster shakes out, he could be in line for more time at third base, a position he hasn’t played since the 2014 season.

“You got to throw from different angles, different lengths, different angles and speeds,” manager AJ Hinch said. “There’s more versatility in the throw, even from third base and areas to second base. It’s one of his best strengths defensively. He’s got a cannon. We’re going to take a look at it.”

Waiting on backup

The Tigers have four catchers vying for the backup role: Grayson Greiner, Jake Rogers, Dustin Garneau and Eric Haase. Hinch said he is “focused primarily” on which catcher gets the most out of the pitching staff, but he wants the backup to battle in at-bats.

Picking a backup catcher, Hinch said, is likely going to be the last roster decision.

“I don’t know that, but it feels like it’s trending that way,” Hinch said. “The guys are all doing something positive to contribute to the competition.”

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Here are the spring stats for those four catchers through 13 games:

Greiner: 3-for-4, one RBI, four walks and one strikeout in five games. He has already missed one week of games with a broken nose.

Rogers: 2-for-15, one RBI, one walk and eight strikeouts in 10 games.

Garneau: 4-for-10, two RBIs, zero walks and three strikeouts in seven games.

Haase: 5-for-10, three doubles, one home run, three RBIs, four walks and four strikeouts in 10 games. The Tigers have used him plenty in left field and, solely in warmups, at first base.

“It’s still fairly early to get some conclusions,” Hinch said. “You need guys to put the ball in play. As a backup catcher who doesn’t get to play a ton, there’s not a ton expected on offense, but there’s a lot expected on defense. It’s still neck-and-neck.”

Bryan Garcia returns

Right-hander Bryan Garcia only has two spring training appearances, and he hasn’t logged an outing since March 5 against the New York Yankees. Hinch said he had to leave camp last week for the same COVID-19 protocol as infielder Zack Short.

“He’s fine,” Hinch said. “He had to be away from camp while we sorted through a few things.”

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Garcia recently returned as a full participant and threw a bullpen. The 25-year-old is going to pitch March 16 against the Yankees in Lakeland.

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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