Manny Machado burst onto the scene late in 2012 and helped the Baltimore Orioles reach the postseason. In 2013, he proved he belonged.
This spring, it seems another position prospect is determined to break out in Baltimore.
The plan was for Jonathan Schoop to begin 2014 at Class AAA Norfolk and get regular playing time to dust off any rust following an injury-plagued 2013. But the versatile infielder is playing his way into the club's immediate plans. And with the uncertainty surrounding Machado's knee and his availability for early April unclear, Schoop may land a starting job with the Orioles.
A shortstop by trade, Schoop's future in Baltimore is likely at second base. He has played some shortstop in spring training, but if he were to make the Opening Day roster, it would be at second base, with Ryan Flaherty shifting to third base to fill in until Machado returns.
Upon Machado's return, the Orioles could return Schoop to the minors, or use Flaherty in a super utility role, sharing time with Schoop at second base. If Schoop continues to hit, it will be tough for the Orioles to keep him in the minors.
Schoop came up in September and impressed in limited at-bats, homering once and going 4-for-15 in five games. Through 14 Grapefruit League games, Schoop was 12-for-30 (.400) with a homer, two doubles and six RBIs.
If the roster situation plays out right, he will get an opportunity. Otherwise, he will start the season at Norfolk, ready to join the club whenever the opportunity arises.
One way or another, the Orioles seem to have another promising position prospect very close to contributing to the everyday lineup.
--RHP Chris Tillman will start Opening Day for the Orioles, manager Buck Showalter announced. Tillman becomes the fifth opening day starter in as many years, and earned the start with his growth over the past two seasons. After an inconsistent start to 2012, Tillman grew by leaps and bounds by 2013, and was the Orioles' top starter, earning an All-Star nod last July.
--OF David Lough battled stiffness in his neck and concussion symptoms and was shut down for a stretch. The likely regular left fielder was sent to see a neurologist and was battling some related dizziness. He has impressed club officials and his teammates in games. If he is unable to start the regular season, a group of players is in camp to take the playing time.
--LHP Zach Britton has been impressive on the mound in his attempt to win a 25-man roster spot, but he is not resting on his arm. Britton offered to make a spring road trip recently to serve as a designated hitter. Britton, who has a home run on his big league record as a hitter, is one of the better hitters amongst the Orioles pitchers.
--LHP Brian Matusz continues to work long innings as if he is a starter, and his performance has been solid. The former top prospect struggled as a starter in 2011 and 2012, and was moved to the bullpen where he thrived late in 2012 and again in 2013. Matusz, who threw 60 pitches in five innings on March 18, could strike the interest of clubs in need of an affordable young starter with upside. Otherwise, he is likely headed back to the bullpen where he would be the club's top lefty in relief.
--OF Francisco Peguero is likely to open the season on the disabled list, having been shut down with a strained right wrist. Peguero would have needed to impress to make the 25-man roster as it was in a tight outfield competition, and he is out of options. In six spring games, he is 4-for-15.
--RHP Edgmer Escalona might also open the regular season on the disabled list after being shut down with shoulder inflammation. Escalona is out of options and likely won't throw until the very end of March.
--RHP Suk-min Yoon was optioned to Class AAA Norfolk and likely will open the season in the rotation for the Tides. He didn't obtain a work visa until mid-March and after the signing of RHP Ubaldo Jiminez, the likelihood that Yoon would break camp with the Orioles decreased significantly.
--C Steve Clevenger has the inside track on the backup catcher's role. C Johnny Monell was optioned to Class AAA Norfolk, opening Clevenger's path as the clear-cut favorite for the job, barring an outside acquisition.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Number one, it's an honor, it's exciting. At the same time, it's important for the team to get us started in the right direction, the season going the right way. I think we are all just excited to get this thing going." -- RHP Chris Tillman, on the news he will start Opening Day.