Detroit Tigers’ Jonathan Schoop needs to start hitting (and drawing walks) to keep playing

Detroit Free Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — Jonathan Schoop needs to start hitting if he wants to keep playing.

His track record suggests a turnaround is coming soon, but the Detroit Tigers have been waiting patiently for too long without results, and if the lackluster performance on offense carries into the regular season, he will lose playing time.

Schoop is confident amid the pressure to start hitting.

“I know I can hit,” Schoop said. “It’s a matter of time before it’s going to come. I don’t think I can do worse than last year. I’ve been in the league 10 years already, so I’ve been good, I’ve been OK, and I’ve been bad. Last year was bad, but it’s over. In spring training, you’re getting ready for the season.”

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Schoop, 31, prides himself on being ready to play every game.

He has been the Tigers’ everyday second baseman for most of the past three seasons. Those days could be over, unless he starts hitting for average and power, as new president of baseball operations Scott Harris is emphasizing strike-zone awareness, which happens to be Schoop’s primary weakness.

A 4.1% walk rate isn’t what the Tigers want in their lineup.

“We really got to get him in the strike zone because he’s a dangerous hitter,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said in mid-February. “He left over 30 walks on three-ball chase. Not easy to automatically correct. He’s not going to get them all back. He actually left 40 of them out there. Things like that are going to enhance his opportunity to play a couple different positions.”

In 2022, Schoop hit .202 with 11 home runs, 19 walks and 107 strikeouts in 131 games. It was the worst season of his 10-year MLB career, despite an outstanding defensive performance at second base, because he was the worst qualified hitter in baseball.

Since the start of 2023, Schoop has played six games for Team Curaçao in the Caribbean Series, four games for The Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic and four games for the Tigers in spring training.

In those 14 games, he owns a .130 batting average with zero home runs. He returned to Lakeland from the WBC on Tuesday and returned to the Tigers’ lineup Friday against the New York Yankees.

He finished 1-for-3 with one double and one walk.

“I got to ramp up a little bit more,” Schoop said. “You can wake me up in December, and I’m ready to play baseball. I’m ready, but I got to get more at-bats, see more pitches and try to do some damage before we go north.”

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The tiring travel schedule has Schoop on a slow ramp into full baseball activities.

To get to the WBC, he flew from Tampa to Los Angeles to Taiwan. Coming back, he flew from Taiwan to Korea to Atlanta to Tampa. There were a couple lengthy car rides, too. Meanwhile, the Dutch team was upset by Italy in its Pool A finale and failed to advance to the single-elimination bracket.

“We fell short, but it was a good experience to play with a group of guys I grew up with,” Schoop said. “We had fun and learned from it. It didn’t go the way we wanted, but now we got to look to the season and try to win.”

On Thursday morning, Team Venezuela captain Miguel Cabrera called Schoop to tease him about being eliminated. Venezuela won all four games in Pool D and will play Team USA in the quarterfinals Saturday in Miami.

Schoop is one of Cabrera’s closest friends on the Tigers. He laughed as he shared the conversation.

“Where you at?” Cabrera said.

“I’m in Lakeland,” Schoop responded. “Where do you think?”

“You’re home already?” Cabrera said.

Younger players like Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene welcomed Schoop back into the clubhouse. Pretty much everyone missed having him around. He also took some heat in Thursday’s team meeting. In front of the squad, Hinch asked Schoop about his 1-for-13 performance with one walk and three strikeouts during the WBC. Several times, Schoop chased pitches outside the strike zone.

“I missed him,” Hinch said. “I did make him a mockery of him in our meeting. We went over at-bat by at-bat what he did. He said he was cheated out of one walk, so I asked him what the other issues were.”

Schoop didn’t have a comeback for that one.

But he didn’t mind the light-hearted jabs.

“He knows he can pick on me,” Schoop said. “I’m not going to get mad.”

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Schoop needs to settle into the spring training routine again, so he won’t travel for the Tigers’ upcoming games against the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday in Jupiter and the Washington Nationals on Sunday in West Palm Beach.

He should be in the lineup Monday against the Toronto Blue Jays in Lakeland.

When Schoop plays, he would benefit from reminding the Tigers of what he can do at the plate. In the past six 162-game seasons, he has five seasons with at least 20 home runs and four seasons with at least a .250 batting average. The Tigers have other players, like veteran second baseman César Hernández, pushing to unseat Schoop from his everyday role.

There’s virtually no chance Schoop gets left off the Opening Day roster, primarily because of his track record and $7.5 million contract, but through the first couple months of the regular season, collecting hits and flashing power will go a long way if he wants to stay on the roster.

If he doesn’t, Schoop could lose playing time and move into a platoon role.

He has less than two weeks to heat up.

“You can’t find a player where it’s not important,” Hinch said. “We need to get him some regular at-bats. I want him to play third base a little bit. More so than anything, we got to make sure he’s hydrated and rested so he doesn’t have an injury between now and the end of spring.”

Contact Evan Petzold at or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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