Shin-soo Choo – 2005 v. 2006
Posted by Jason A. Churchill on May 1, 2006
Through games of Monday night, outfield prospect Shin-soo Choo was hitting .349/.420/.554 with five home runs and eight steals.
Yeah, that's a pretty solid line, and it gets better for the 23-year-old. Choo has fanned just 14 times in 100 plate appearances, and has drawn 10 walks.
A year ago, Choo was beginning his second month in Triple-A hitting .205 with 22 strikeouts and just two home runs. He had also been caught stealing three times in five attempts.
He's 8-for-10 on the young 2006 season.
Choo is putting it all together, and the scouts don't think it's smoke and mirrors and to a man they have no thoughts of Choo's start being a mirage.
Since the final third of last season Choo has been hitting in the leadoff spot for Tacoma, and since about that time he's been red hot. After starting 2005 so sluggishly, getting called up to sit on the bench for 10 days only to be sent back down, and sleepwalking through half the year, Choo has been the Rainiers best player.
The four knocks on him at the mid-way point in '05 were his inability to hit left-handers, the loss of his power stroke, his high strikeout rates and his failures in the stolen base department.
How's this for fixing what was broken?
Since July 30, 2005, Choo has hit .284 versus southpaws, slugged .533, whiffed only once more than he has walked, 24, and has been successful on 13 of 17 stolen base attempts.
Overall he's hit .332/.422/.533 with 11 home runs. That's one more homer than he had all of last season piled into two full months of two different seasons.
So what's he doing differently?
"He's cut down the length of his swing," said an American League Central scout. "Especially with two strikes. But he's exploding through the pitch much better than before. I think he's twice the hitter today that he was a couple years ago when he was the most complete player in Texas.
"I think the leadoff spot has changed his thought process. It certainly seems like it. He's being aggressive early in the count when it's his advantage to do so, and he's patient when he doesn't get the right pitch to hit. He's not afraid to walk to first base."
Choo's power has never seen a rate this high. His six home runs are the most he's ever hit in two months, let alone one.
"Well, that shorter stroke still packs some nice bat speed," said the scout. "Pitchers can't pound him in or dance anything away from him because unless it's over the plate, he's not offering up a swing right now. That forces the pitcher to throw him a legit strike. He's hitting most legit strikes right now, and some of them are being hit pretty hard."
The shorter stroke. It's just as much "the quicker stroke" since the idea is to get the bat through the zone as quick as possible. This allows the hitter to wait longer on pitches, which in turn enables him to cover for the breaking ball but still hit the fastball.
"He doesn't swing and miss much at all," the scout added. "He's capable of fighting off good pitches and working the count until he gets a better one. He's made a lot of progress and it's showing up early."
Against the southpaw, Choo is simply better equipped to handle pitches that a year ago seemed to appear to him out of nowhere. He's able to wait for the pitch and get a good swing on it, rather than pressing to make sure he doesn't get in a hole.
"What I've seen of him is all about his hands," the scout said of Choo's approach against southpaws. "He's more confident that he can protect his at-bats and that's a big factor. When you aren't confident, things tend to slide downhill in a big hurry."
What has he changed versus lefties?
"Nothing all that visible to the naked eye, but he's using everything he has," said another scout. "He knows he can cover the slider so he believes a fastball is his pitch. Sometimes guys look for the pitch that they have trouble with and try to foul it off instead of trying to hit the fastball and adjusting.
"Choo is much more balanced up there, I really like what I see. I think he's on the cusp of becoming a big-league ball player."
A third scout watching Choo for the first time since 2005 added his thoughts on what is different between the two seasons.
"He's got much better command of the strike zone this year," he said. "I haven't seen him fishing for balls he couldn't get good wood on and he's driving more balls."
Rainiers manager Dave Brundage has his own theory, one that I subscribe to more than any other.
"He's just much more comfortable this year," said Brundage. "You can see it in everything he's doing. He's sure he's doing the right thing, swinging at the right pitch, running on the right pitch; he's just more comfortable with his surroundings this time around. He's always had the skills and the ability to do what he's doing, and the coaching has been here for two years in a row with (Dan) Rohn and Pollz (Terry Pollreisz, Tacoma hitting coach.)"
Another sign that Choo is just more comfortable and relaxed this season is that he's more outgoing. He's offering up eye contact to the media, speaking more English and smiling out on the field with his teammates.
He's clearly a happier camper this season.
Maybe it takes a year to get to the point where you can put up with Tacoma. Or maybe Choo is just a pretty good ballplayer with a decent career in his future.
"He's a player," said the AL Central scout, who coincidentally was scouting with the Reds when Choo was a pretty hot commodity at the Junior World Championships six years ago. "I thought he could pitch, but Seattle made the right choice. In a good environment, he has a chance to be a six-hole hitter, but he has leadoff and No. 2 qualities, too."