Skip Schumaker remains a work-in-progress second baseman. The Cardinal’s lead-off hitter has ably manned the position since being moved to the infield one year ago, but even he admits that some fine-tuning is needed before comparisons to Fernando Vina are warranted. Shumaker, who hit .303/.364/.393 last season, talked about his defensive transition during spring training.
David Laurila: How would you describe your career thus far?
Skip Schumaker: It’s been up-and-down. I’ve been up and down six times between the minor leagues and back to the big leagues. But it’s been fun, also. I got a chance to be part of a World Series team in ‘06. I finally got an opportunity to play every day in ‘07 and have tried to do the most with that opportunity since I got that chance.
DL: When were you first approached about the move to second base?
SS: Late in January of last year, about a week before I left for spring training. Tony [LaRussa] gave me a call and asked me if I could do it. I said I was willing to try it, but it took a really long time for me to figure it out. Tony gave me a long leash.
DL: What went through your mind after you hung up the phone from that initial conversation?
SS: I was scared, nervous, all of the above. There were a lot of things going through my head about making that transition in the major leagues. It’s a really difficult thing to do and having never played second base, I knew that there was going to be a lot to learn, but I had really good coaches to help me out, like [Jose] Oquendo and [Joe] Pettini. It took a lot of hard work, but it has paid off.
DL: Did you ask LaRussa: “Why”?
SS: At the time, we had a lot of outfielders — a lot of good outfielders.
DL: What did the Cardinals see in you that told them you could play second base?
SS: I don’t know. I have no idea.
DL: Presumably you talked to Oquendo about the mechanics of the position?
SS: Oh, all the time. And we still do. I still talk to Jose, and to Pettini, about footwork and where I should be on certain plays. That’s going to be a career-long thing for me, because I’m so new at the position. But never have I asked why they thought I should be there.
DL: As we speak, are you a good defensive second baseman?
SS: I’m getting better. I wouldn’t say I’m good; I’d say I’m average and trying to get over that hump. I’m learning every day. Everything is still new to me, so ground balls to my left and to my right, double plays–everything is still really fresh to me, so there is nothing that I’m strictly comfortable with yet.
DL: Given your inexperience at second base, is it especially important for you to have continuity across the bag at shortstop?
SS: I’ve been fortunate to have some veteran guys over at shortstop who have played there a lot, and they’ve helped me a ton. So, of course it’s important and hopefully we’ll continue to have a healthy Brendan Ryan over there, because he’s great.
DL: The arm action at second base is obviously different than it is in the outfield.
SS: I try to use my arm more than anything, because I have a strong arm. When I first started playing second, I thought that everybody running was Jose Reyes, so I had to really slow everything down. That was the main thing. Once I stepped down and just relied on my arm, I started getting better. You obviously need to be shorter on a double play, but that kind of came naturally. I was blessed with a decent arm, so that was never really a problem.
DL: You did spend some time in the outfield last year. I assume that wasn’t difficult in any way?
SS: It was like riding a bike. I’ve played the outfield for the last nine years, from college to the minor leagues to the big leagues, so nothing about the outfield is difficult to me.
DL: Are you a better outfielder than second baseman right now?
SS: Probably, yeah. I can play all three positions. I’m more natural in the outfield just because I’ve played more out there, but I’m trying to become as good of an infielder as I am an outfielder.
DL: Your bat is more valuable at second base than it is in the outfield. Is that meaningful to you?
SS: I try to hit .300 everywhere that I am. It doesn’t matter if I’m playing centerfield or second base. I know the type of hitter that I am and don’t try to be somebody that I’m not at the plate.
DL: Do you look at yourself more as, “I’m a .300 hitter,” or “I have a .360 on-base percentage”?
SS: Well, a .300 hitter is usually going to have a pretty decent on-base percentage and an idea of the zone and your swing. If you worry about hitting .300, usually that means that you’re seeing pitches and getting on base.
DL: Are satisfied with your plate discipline?
SS: I don’t think anyone is satisfied, except maybe Joe Mauer. Everybody can get better at it, so you’re always trying to look to succeed, because the better pitches you get to hit in your zone, the better hitter you’re going to be and you’re going to get on base more.