Shin-Soo Choo should prove more than capable leading man for Rangers

03/16/2014 7:55 PM

11/12/2014 4:16 PM

Veteran left-hander John Danks was on the pitching mound for the Chicago White Sox on Sunday afternoon.

And lefty hitter Shin-Soo Choo was in the leadoff spot for the Texas Rangers, right where manager Ron Washington wants and needs him.

Washington has said it more than once this spring, but his announcement was worth repeating.

“Choo will play against everybody, unless there’s a time where I decide to give him a day off or I DH him,” Washington said before Sunday’s 14-8 Cactus League win.

“He’s not going to be platooned in any way.”

If you have a fantasy draft to prepare for, or if you simply haven’t been paying attention, free agent acquisition Choo will be the Rangers’ leadoff hitter and everyday left fielder this season.

Overpriced, at seven years and $130 million? Maybe. Choo, 31, will have to determine that.

Baseball’s modern day thinking, however, is to dwell on the need, not the length of the contract. The $130 million was simply the cost of acquiring the best pitch-selective, grind-it-out, leadoff-capable corner outfielder on the market.

And the Rangers needed him. As last year’s lineup roller-coastered its way through streaks and slumps, finally pulling up short of the playoffs, it became apparent that you can’t teach an old lineup new tricks.

Hitting coach Dave Magadan’s credentials are well established. But Magadan was never going to make a David Ortiz-type hitter out of Mitch Moreland.

Thus, with the addition of Choo and Prince Fielder in the off-season — both patient at the plate — coupled with the continuing maturation of youngsters Elvis Andrus, Leonys Martin and Jurickson Profar, Washington and Magadan now have a very different kind of Rangers lineup to work with.

Choo hit his first home run of the spring last week, but he was more delighted that it came on his son Alan’s 9th birthday than anything.

“It’s not a big deal,” Choo said. “A lot of people see the numbers, hitting homers and getting hits, but for me and a lot of players it’s how you feel in the batter’s box.

“For me, the better thing is to see a lot of pitches. Every at-bat the other night I was seeing a 3-2 or 3-1 count, and that’s a good sign. I’m not a big home run hitter. Home runs come by accident. I’m more happy when I see a lot of pitches.”

Choo doubled and walked off lefty Danks on Sunday and raised his spring average to .179. But the manager doesn’t seem concerned about the average.

“He’s been swinging the bat well for about five or six days now,” Washington said. “He’s been stinging some balls but not getting anything for it.

“I’m not worried about Choo. He knows what he’s doing. He’s going to be fine.”

Though Choo’s career numbers suggest that he has trouble hitting lefties, his on-base percentage against that side remains leadoff-worthy. Over his past three spring trainings, in fact, Choo is batting .283 against left-handers (15 for 53).

Hence, Washington’s plan to make Choo a fixture in left field. That would leave Washington the option of spotting rookie Michael Choice regularly at all three outfield positions, with an occasional turn against lefties at DH.

Washington continues to tap the brakes on all hype about Choice. But the UT Arlington product has been a star of this camp, batting .389 with a 1.099 OPS against just about every kind of Cactus League pitching.

An outfield rotation of Choo, Martin, Alex Rios and Choice could turn one of last season’s most disappointing areas — to wit, David Murphy’s .220 average and Nelson Cruz’s 50-game suspension — into a potential strong point.

Lineup efficiency, that’s what Shin-Soo Choo’s signing was all about.

About Gil LeBreton

Gil LeBreton

@gilebreton

Whether it's pondering Moose McNuggets at the McDonald's in Norway or chasing Lance Armstrong up some mountaintop in France, Gil LeBreton has been entertaining Star-Telegram readers for nearly 30 years. He's covered 21 Super Bowls, 14 Olympic Games (summer and winter), saw Muhammad Ali box, Paul Newman drive a race car and Prince Albert try to steer a bobsled.

Gil also once briefly held the WBC Junior Welterweight title belt -- he had to, because the guy he was interviewing, champ Bruce Curry, had to suddenly step into the men's room.

Email Gil at gilebreton@star-telegram.com

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