Twins 2019 Position Analysis: Second Base
Image courtesy of Jeff Curry-USA TODAY SportsProjected Starter: Jonathan Schoop
Likely Backup: Marwin Gonzalez
Depth: Ehire Adrianza, Ronald Torreyes, Jordany Valdespin
Prospects: Nick Gordon, Luis Arraez, Travis Blankenhorn
Although he's coming off his worst season since learning the ropes as a rookie in 2014, Schoop has every ingredient for a bounceback. He's young, having turned 27 in October. He's hungry, with free agency bearing down at year's end. He's feeling scorned, after being traded and non-tendered in 2018. He's got a new hitting coach who has had some success with free-swinging power hitters (James Rowson's work with Eddie Rosario comes to mind).
And most importantly, Schoop is working to iron out an ostensibly correctable issue. He was hampered early last year by an oblique injury that, from the view of both the second baseman and his new team, caused him to compensate and alter his swing. Now healthy and highly motivated, the Twins hope to see a return of the player who posted an aggregate .280/.316/.479 line from 2015 to 2017.
Whether or not he can fully rebound, Schoop is at the very least a good bet to bring the boom. He has hit 15 or more home runs in every season as a big-leaguer, and managed 21 last year while batting just .233 in 131 games for the Orioles and Brewers. That total would've ranked second on the Twins behind Rosario.
From 2014 to 2018, only one major-league second baseman hit more home runs than Schoop (109). It was Brian Dozier with 148. So in that sense, the Twins have found themselves a very fitting replacement, and Schoop is a better defender than Dozier was – at least toward the end of his Twins tenure. Schoop is renowned for his strong arm and lightning-quick double-play turns.
The addition of Gonzalez provides a crucial depth boost at several positions, and second base is near the top of the list. Minnesota's depth behind Schoop was rather scant, with Adrianza figuring to be the top backup. He can play second but has done so rarely, and made only three starts there for the Twins last year.
Gonzalez, meanwhile, has plenty of experience at the position, and logged 183 innings there for the Astros in 2018. His bat is also much more likely to play than that of Adrianza or Torreyes. It's hard to overstate just how much this free agent signing bolsters the outlook at second base by mitigating the risk around Schoop.
Schoop is a risk, of course. The rebounding-after-injury narrative is a tidy one, but it doesn't always play out that way. Even if he gets back on top of his game, he offers zero patience (drew 17 unintentional walks in 501 PA last year) and minimal running ability (slower sprint speed than Robbie Grossman, per Statcast).
Schoop's nonexistent plate discipline tends to hurt his batting average (.258 career), so you are looking at a fairly one-dimensional offensive player here. That's not necessarily the worst thing, because extra-base hits are always good, but it does reduce Schoop's margin for error. When you never walk it's pretty easy to become a drain on the lineup unless you're consistently hitting. As we saw last year.
Long-term, the big sticking point at second base is Gordon. Minnesota's first-round draft pick in 2014 was on a steady ascent toward the majors up until hitting a wall at Triple-A last summer. Gordon has played mostly shortstop in the system but projects as a second baseman in the majors, and – having been added to the 40-man roster in November – the clock is now ticking on him to stake his claim.
We should have a much better idea by the end of this year about the "when" and "if" where Gordon is concerned. There's also the fact that Jorge Polanco, newly signed to a five-year extension, profiles better at second than short, and has a few top prospects (Royce Lewis and Wander Javier) coming up beneath him.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Just like at first base, the future outlook at second for Minnesota is fluid, which is why a one-year gamble like Schoop makes sense. It's quite rare you can find a player with his track record, at his age, on a one-year deal so Minnesota seems to have done well here, even if his high-power/low-OBP profile is redundant in their lineup.
By adding Gonzalez to the roster, the Twins made their somewhat risky play on Schoop much more palatable. Marwin's two-year deal also provides some buffer in the event that the next mainstay – be it Gordon, or Polanco, or Arraez (added to the 40-man alongside Gordon) – takes a little longer to reach fruition.
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