Chris McCosky | The Detroit News
Lakeland, Fla. — You snooze you lose sometimes.
Jonathan Schoop, holding out hope for a multi-year deal, didn’t re-sign with the Tigers until Feb. 5. No big deal, really. He got $4.5 million for the 2021 season. One problem. His jersey number was gone. Robbie Grossman, who signed in January, took No. 8.
“That’s OK,” Schoop said. “They give me No. 7. Lucky Seven.”
The Tigers are thrilled to have Schoop’s veteran presence back in the fold.
“He’s been on a lot of teams and he’s seen and done everything,” manager AJ Hinch said. “And we still have a developing infield. I expect some leadership from him and he expects that from himself.”
Schoop, as he is every spring, was a delayed entrant into camp. He was stuck in his native Curacao awaiting his work visa. He finally was cleared to enter the country early last week but didn’t clear his COVID-19 intake testing until Friday.
He made his spring debut Sunday, going 0-for-2 with a walk as the designated hitter in the Tigers’ 5-1 win over the Orioles.
“I’m ready,” he said.
While he was waiting for his visa, Schoop worked out with the Curacao national team.
“They are getting ready to compete in some national tournaments,” he said. “I just joined them.”
Schoop has been a national hero in Curacao since he helped the country win the Little League World Series in 2004. He’s been a fixture on the Netherlands National Team since 2011. So you have to know, when he stepped into the batter’s box against those kids, they were looking to beat him.
“Yeah, you know, you’re just trying to see some pitches but they know,” Schoop said. “They’re trying to strike me out all the time. It was good competition.”
Schoop is expected to be the primary second baseman this season, but Hinch also plans to use him at third base in certain situations.
“(At third base) you have to throw from different angles and different lengths and different paces — there’s a little more versatility in the throws from third base than even from second base,” Hinch said. “And his arm is one of his best strengths defensively — he’s got a cannon.
“That’s interesting to me, especially when we play people in so many different positions.”
What Hinch envisions, ultimately, are three or four versatile infielders that he can position around the diamond according to pitcher-hitter matchups.
“Our curiosity is what the best alignment is with specific guys if we have these four people playing infield today and this pitcher throwing — what’s the best defensive alignment,” he said. “It might change based on ground-ball (propensity), righty or lefty hitters.”
The perfect play
The Tigers followed an extremely sloppy game in Clearwater Saturday with a crisply-played game Sunday, typified first by a diving catch in center field by Victor Reyes in the second inning and Grossman throwing a runner out at the plate from right field in the third.
“Pretty textbook,” Hinch said.
With speedy Ryan McKenna at second base and one out, the Tigers were shifted to the left side and catcher Austin Wynns beat the shift with a ground single through the vacated right side. Grossman, playing shallow, charged the ball quickly and made an accurate throw on one-hop to catcher Wilson Ramos who applied the tag.
“We’ve been talking about shallowing up a little bit (with the opposite-field outfielder), especially with a guy who gets a lot of ground balls like Spencer Turnbull,” Hinch said. “Robbie being shallow enough and him attacking the play gave him a chance to make a really clean throw.”
The other part of the play that gets overlooked, first baseman Miguel Cabrera was in position to cut the ball off if needed. That and Grossman’s head-high throw, kept Wynns from advancing to second when the throw went through.
“It was a textbook play,” Hinch said. “We should copy that and paste it and sent it to all our minor leaguers as an example of a perfect play.”
Baddoo, take two
Rule 5 rookie Akil Baddoo pulled a home run to right field in Clearwater Saturday. On Sunday, he capped a four-run bottom of the eighth by staying back on a breaking ball and punching it onto the berm in left field. Homers in back-to-back days.
“He wants to be a big-leaguer and he wants to be a big-leaguer now,” Hinch said. “The power is nice to see. We knew he had that from our scouting reports. But it’s more his comfort in how he plays the game. He has a great calmness about him that doesn’t often come with a guy coming out of A-ball to big-league camp.”
Baddoo, who is hitting .400 with a 1.35 OPS this spring, is going to be a hot topic when the Tigers start getting down to the final cuts, especially when there are four veteran outfielders already in place. But if the Tigers don’t keep Baddoo on the active roster, they have to offer him back to the Twins, whom they drafted him from.
“It’s not tough on us,” Hinch said. “We’re going to take guys we feel are the best to take north. And he’s stating his case.”
Around the horn
Shortstop Zack Short, just a couple of days out of quarantine, broke a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the eighth inning with a line-drive three-run homer onto the berm in left-center field. “There’s a lot of pop in that bat,” Hinch said. The ball left his bat with an exit velocity of 107 mph.
…Tigers reliever Bryan Garcia has returned to camp after sitting out last week in COVID-19 protocol. The club won’t reveal specific details, but the quarantine was likely for contact tracing issues. HInch said he expects to get Garcia in a game on Tuesday.