Scouting Shin-Soo Choo has become an easier task over the years. He’s established himself as an on-base machine with speed and power.
In the beginning, though, nobody knew how Choo would pan out. Just ask Jim Colborn, the Rangers’ senior adviser for Pacific Rim operations.
“The big problem with scouting him is that he’d walk about three times a game,” said Colborn, a scout for the Mariners at the time.
“They’d never give him anything good to hit and he’d take his walks. So it was tough to grade him.”
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That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, of course. And Choo eventually blew away Colborn and the rest of the Mariners’ executives with a batting performance at Safeco Field one day. Choo sent ball after ball off the glass panels of the restaurant in right field, the same place that Ken Griffey Jr. drilled on a daily basis.
“He put on a show,” Colborn said.
Seattle signed Choo to a deal in August 2000 and he worked his way through the farm system and into the major leagues by 2005. But Choo became expendable to the Mariners at that time because they had Ichiro Suzuki in right field.
The Cleveland Indians happily acquired Choo in a three-player trade during the 2006 season, and then the Cincinnati Reds coveted him and landed him in a three-team trade before last season.
“We had some sense of Choo, a good hitter with a good approach at the plate and a strong defender,” said Indians general manager Chris Antonetti, a baseball operations assistant during the 2006 trade.
“But what we didn’t fully appreciate at the time was his work ethic and how driven he is to succeed. You have to see that firsthand.”
Reds general manager Walt Jocketty echoed those sentiments, saying his team would have re-signed Choo without thinking twice if they had the financial means necessary.
“You couldn’t ask to have a better guy on your club,” Jocketty said. “He’s first class. Great player, great teammate and he adapted right away with the rest of the players and became very popular with everybody. I certainly think he’ll be a big player for the Rangers.”
The Rangers are banking on it. They handed him the second-richest free-agent contract in franchise history, a seven-year, $130 million deal.
Choo admitted the size of his contract could add “a little bit of pressure” this season, but he isn’t too worried about it.
“I like challenges,” said Choo, who will bat leadoff and play left field for the Rangers. “I talk to myself: ‘Choo, you play Shin-Soo Choo style.’ ”
That means working counts, getting on base and doing whatever he can to help his team win. Choo said he’s become a better two-strike batter over the years, and is looking to improve on his numbers against left-handed pitching.
Choo is a career .243 hitter against lefties, but that dipped to .199 in 2012 and .215 last season. Choo said his struggles are more mental than mechanical and he expects to figure it out by talking with different hitters and hitting coach Dave Magadan.
Still, Choo had a respectable .347 on-base percentage against lefties and reached base 13 times against them on a hit by pitch.
The Rangers also believe it’s hard to quantify Choo’s value throughout a game. They feel his approach will have a positive effect on the rest of the lineup and the number of pitches he sees a game will wear down an opposing starter.
“He’s one of those guys that has makeup like guys from the old school,” manager Ron Washington said. “He goes up there and has an at-bat and comes back to the dugout and talks about it. That’s what I remember as a player that leadoff guys used to do. Choo is one of those guys and he will have an effect.”
The other thing the Rangers are seeing is the work ethic his former teams raved about that can’t be found in a scouting report. Choo is among the first people to arrive at the Surprise Recreation Campus on a daily basis.
“That just says he can’t sleep at night,” Washington said, laughing. “No, the guy has a passion for his craft and he’d rather get out of bed and show up at the ballpark and do something productive than lay down. That’s the joy you get in spring training.”