Choo right guy for right time for Rangers

Posted Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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lebreton Maybe, as the Internet baseball pundits say, outfielder Shin-Soo Choo really isn’t worth the seven-year, $130 million free-agent contract that the Rangers awarded him last December.

But what do the pundits know?

Only time will tell about the $130 million. But for now, Choo is the right player, for the right time, for the right spot in the batting order for this season’s Texas Rangers.

In his first spring training media conference, the Korea-born Choo was asked which part of his Swiss Army knife skill set defines him best.

“I’m not a great power hitter,” Choo answered. “I’m not a great high batting average hitter. But I think I can do everything. I can walk, I can get on base, I can steal.”

Scuttled by inconsistency last season, the Rangers’ offense could use all of those Choo-ables.

When asked later for what impressed him most about his new outfielder, manager Ron Washington replied, “The way he goes about his business, his professionalism, his work ethic, his willingness to be there for his teammates.

“I just want him to continue to walk around and be Choo.”

Less than a week into camp, the Rangers have already discovered one other thing about Choo — you can’t beat him to the clubhouse each morning. Choo arrives before the sun.

Just as they did before signing third baseman Adrian Beltre to a five-year, $80 million contract in 2011, the Rangers did their homework on Choo. They learned that the 31-year-old native of Busan, South Korea, has been a welcomed teammate at every stop during his 14-year career in the United States.

He’s friendly and speaks English commendably well. Which led to the stickiest question of his Friday news conference, when I asked him how he planned to follow in the Texas footsteps of his Korean countryman Chan Ho Park.

Forget the Alex Rodriguez boondoggle. The worst free agent signing of the previous ownership regime came when Tom Hicks allowed agent Scott Boras to ink Park — a benefactor of Dodger Stadium’s pitching-favorable park effects — for five years and $65 million.

Over the next four seasons, Park made only 68 starts and won just 22 games. He always seemed to be having trouble with his back or his command or the late Oscar Acosta, briefly the team’s pitching coach.

In stark contrast to the ever-smiling Choo, Park was quiet and intensely serious. More tellingly, he was the first from Korea to reach the American major leagues, and he seemed to pitch with the burden of his entire proud nation on his shoulders.

Choo has talked with Park since signing with the Rangers, he said.

“I’m still proud of him,” Choo said. “Whether he played bad or good, myself and other Korean players are very proud of him, because he made it possible to bring me here.

“We came from Korea, but I’ve lived 14 years in the United States, so it’s almost two countries. I want to play well for my country and I want to play well for here.

“I’m used to this pressure. I know how to deal with the Korean people, and I know how to deal here.”

If there is one glitch in Choo’s game, it is the lefty hitter’s career batting splits against left-handed pitching. He’s batted 66 points lower against lefties.

He’s aware of that, Choo said Friday.

“That’s not a mechanical problem — it’s all mental,” he said. And he plans to fix it.

Washington weighed in on the subject by saying, “I’m going to sink or swim with him in the leadoff spot.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s against left-handers, right-handers or three-armed guys.”

Yes, Choo signed the highest-paid contract of any outfielder in Rangers history.

“I’m human, so there’s probably a little bit of pressure with that,” Choo admitted. “But if you try too much, you can hurt yourself — over-swing, over-play.

“It will be a challenge for me over the next seven years, but I like challenges. I talk to myself and say, ‘Choo, you play Shin-Soo Choo style. Don’t try to play like Microsoft.’ 

That would be enough for the Rangers, who often struggled last season to score runs.

Choo, at any price, has come along at the right time.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @gilebreton

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