I do not use youth as a crutch for either one of those guys, said Bowie hitting coach Denny Hocking. I think it's unfair to them.
Hocking is here in Bowie to develop guys like Machado and Schoop, two young studs considered to be the future of the Orioles infield, and he feels it would be a mistake to let them hear that they are too young to succeed at the Major League level, or young enough to do poorly in Double-A. He knows their rankings in Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects [Machado 11th, Schoop 82nd] won't mean a thing if they continue to hit below .250 and make mistakes in the field.
They've been on the upswing, Schoop having just ended a six game hitting streak, and Machado still on his own six game streak, but there have been plenty of moments this year where the two have visibly struggled.
According to Hocking, there is no question about these young shortstop's abilities. Both are capable fielders, and both have nice swings at the plate. Their .242 (Machado) and .246 (Schoop) averages are derivative of their mental game.
Talent wise, they're great, but talent doesn't always get you to the Big Leagues, said Hocking. There's a lot of things that we do with the younger guys that is not mechanic-related, you know, and that's where they need to get stronger. They have good mechanics, both of them, but it's the mental side- trying to process at bats, trying to process what a pitcher's trying to do, and that's the part that we're trying to work on here.
Machado and Schoop are buying in. They both understand that the game is all about learning from mistakes, even when you've drawn comparisons to Alex Rodriguez like Machado has, or have been as decorated as Schoop has (Little League World Series, Senior League World Series, Baseball World Cup).
I'm trying to learn how to fail, said Machado. This game's all about failure, you know.
Hocking elaborated on his point about talent versus the mental game. Machado, for example, tends to abandon his plan at the plate. Often, he and Hocking will have a conversation about what Machado will do in an at bat. The 19-year-old will walk out of the dugout with confidence and work himself into a hitters count. Then, when he's up 2-0 or 3-1, he'll start hacking. That's where Machado shoots himself in the foot.
He tends to get off of his plan and go sometimes into auto swing, said Hocking, And that's where he winds up failing, and that just goes back to the whole mental approach and things of that nature.
Schoop, who is sometimes overlooked by Machado as the future Orioles shortstop, is struggling this year with recognizing the strike zone. He's got big league bat speed, but until he starts to slow the game down at this level and visualize his pitch to hit, he'll continue to swing and miss.
On the flip side to Hocking's hard knock philosophy, Baysox manager Gary Kendall acknowledged that that kind of mental awareness comes with time. The two players have only been facing Double-A pitching for three months.
You know, it comes with age, said Kendall. It comes with maturity, playing the game, the amount of innings he's going to play at shortstop and second base. Both of those kids, they're just going to grow leaps and bounds.
To keep that mindset from creeping in for the worse, Hocking is standing right next to Kendall the whole way. Like at the plate, he watches everything they do in the field. A week ago against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, Hocking saw the two make plenty of mistakes at second and short. On several plays, Schoop stayed in the middle of the infield when he should have been covering or backing up first base. In one instance, Machado followed up a well fielded ground ball and throw to first with a lazy throwing error that cost the Baysox a run. Absentminded and lazy play is not tolerated by Hocking, no matter how old you are.
You know, I told (Schoop) from the dugout, 'you need to get over there (to first).' He got in the dugout and I said 'don't take plays off', said Hocking. And that's what you have to do with these young guys. Don't allow them to take plays off.
Machado and Schoop are coming of age together as young pro ballers, and they relish it. Last season, the two played together in single-A Delmarva and high-A Frederick. They say they've learned a lot from each other, and they enjoy playing together.
We played together last year a lot, you know, we played the whole year together, and I know his swing and he knows my swing as well, so we help each other out a lot with our swings, said Machado. We try to help each other out as much as we can, you know, either hitting or fielding we're always talking in the dugout, we're always talking in the field.
Schoop, normally a shortstop, said that whether he plays shortstop or second base does not matter to him. Having only played eight games at short, one might think Schoop would develop a longing to be back at his old spot in the infield.
No, no, no, no, said Schoop, assuredly. When my manager puts me at shortstop, or when Manny get's a day off, I just go outside and do the things I can do and help the pitcher and help the team to win a ball game. I don't get excited.
I'll play third base, second base, shortstop, first base, everywhere, he continued. You know, just to help the team win, you know, winning's fun.
Kendall said he thinks the two have responded well to adversity this year.
A lot of guys in these situations, when they're not hitting the way they should or not fielding the way they should, they go through peaks and valleys like we experience at the minor leagues, said Kendall. Sometimes players don't read that. You separate bad games. You know, they're very professional, they have a very good baseball clock, very good awareness.
Friday night against the Fisher Cats, Machado had two hits, scored two runs and racked up three RBI. Schoop went hitless, but the two have hit more consistently this past week than they have in a while. Neither is hitting for power as they are expected to. They've only combined for three doubles in the last ten games, and no home runs.
In their case, they may need some time to hang around Double-A before they are ready for bigger things, but they will never hear Hocking say it has anything to do with youth. The coach said they know what they need to do.
In order for guys like [Orioles minor league coaches and management] to put their stamp on young players, they'd rather see stuff, and right now when they come in they're trying to see shorter swings [than what manny and jonthan have], said Hocking. Those guys shorten up their swings, they're going to have a chance to get mentioned in that conversation up there.