Detroit Tigers' Jonathan Schoop will do anything to 'prove myself' in 2021. Even play 1B
Swing mechanics. Two-strike counts. Infield versatility. Being a helpful teammate, especially to the younger players. And, most importantly, doing whatever it takes to win.
"I just want to prove myself, just want to be better every year," Schoop said Monday. "Whatever I got to do to get better — a better teammate, a better leader. I want to be better at everything. This year, I want to come back and get more good at-bats, swing at more strikes and don't chase too much."
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That's why the 29-year-old, who re-signed with the Tigers on Friday, isn't ready to call himself a full-time second baseman. New manager AJ Hinch won't solidify his spot until the organization operates test runs in spring training.
Second base is Schoop's primary position, but he won't rule out shortstop, third base and first base. He's even up for the challenge of playing the outfield, although that's unlikely. But if there's a way to boost his value, he is willing to try.
Across his eight-year career, Schoop has played second base (805 games), shortstop (22 games) and third base (17 games). He spent one game in the outfield in the minors and hasn't ever played first base, but the Tigers are optimistic he can transition if needed.
"It's something I want to do," Schoop said about adding versatility. "I want to show that I can do it."
A Gold Glove finalist last season, Schoop will make $4.5 million on his one-year contract, down from $6.1 million before proration last year. The discussions of a return began at the end of the 2020 season but didn't gain traction until recently.
Schoop was the fourth player to sign a big-league contract with the Tigers this offseason, following right-hander Jose Urena (one year, $3.25 million), outfielder Robbie Grossman (two years, $10 million) and catcher Wilson Ramos (one year, $2 million).
"The free-agent market was difficult for everybody," Schoop said. "It's a little bit frustrating (settling for one year), but there's nothing you can do about it. You just have to come back, put up numbers again, help your team win and prove you're a better player."
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Across 44 games in 2020, Schoop hit .278 with eight homers and 23 RBIs. He drew eight walks and struck out 39 times. It marked Schoop's best offensive season since he made the 2017 All-Star Game with the Baltimore Orioles.
Considering Hinch hired Scott Coolbaugh — who Schoop trained under in Baltimore from 2015-18 — as the team's new hitting coach, the veteran was even more eager to return.
"I know I'm going to do better because he knows me," Schoop said. "I have a really good relationship with him. He's a coach, but we became really good friends. If I do something wrong, he will jump on me. ... He's going to help all the guys around the team."
Schoop showed overall improvements in a small sample, but he hit .238 in 0-2 counts and .083 in 1-2 counts. His walk rate was 4.5% — one of the worst in the league — and he chased at 38.2% of pitches outside of the strike zone.
He believes a change in his approach will solve those problems.
"I got to just go out there with a better plan," Schoop said. "Go out there and let him throw strikes. If it's not a strike, don't swing at it. Try to see the ball early, try to see the ball in the zone and put a good swing on it. The mentality is everything. If you throw balls, let it go. If I see it's in the zone, let it go."
Also, Schoop is healthy again. His 2020 season ended prematurely when he went to the 10-day injured list in the middle of September with a right wrist sprain.
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It took him two or three weeks to recover, and after a month, he was taking full swings. There's no lingering pain, meaning he will report without restrictions to spring training Feb. 22 for the first full-team workout.
And he's ready to take his game up a notch.
"I feel at home in Detroit," Schoop said. "I feel good with the guys. I built a really good relationship with them. I feel like we have a good group of guys. If we work together, we're going to win a lot of ballgames. We just got to put it together.
"This year, we're going to do way better. We're going to win more games and push for the playoffs."