One of the best first halves to a season in Shin-Soo Choo’s long career took him last year to a place he had never been, the American League All-Star team.
It was an overdue honor for a quality MLB player who is respected by past and current teammates and considered a professional in the way he plays the game.
Then, the second half came, and Choo has no doubt that it was the worst second-half performance of his career.
While he was still selected as the Texas Rangers Player of the Year, Choo’s numbers weren’t nearly as shiny as they were in mid-July when he helped the AL team rally to victory in the Midsummer Classic at Washington.
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“Maybe the baseball gods gave a good thing the first half and a bad thing the second half,” Choo said.
He has moved on, as the pros do, and the Rangers still value the way Choo reaches base as their designated hitter. That is where he is expected to get most of his at-bats in 2019, and he figures to do so at the top of the lineup or in the No. 2 hole.
But Choo is planning to make an impact off the field as well. Adrian Beltre is gone, and while the leadership torch has been passed to shortstop Elvis Andrus, Choo said that he is also going to raise his leadership game in the clubhouse.
As Beltre and Michael Young and Andrus have said, leading isn’t a one-man show. Choo, who is already in Surprise, Ariz., with more than 10 days left until the first full-squad workout, has plans this camp on getting his arms around the team.
“Nobody can cover Adrian,” Choo said. “I talked to Elvis a little bit about it. Not one person will do it, the leadership. I will talk to every individual player.”
They might even pick up some leadership duties, Choo said.
Choo is the oldest player in camp, though just at 36, but catcher Jeff Mathis, 35, has more big-league service time. Choo, though, has the second-longest tenure among Rangers players, behind Andrus, and all the young players have come up watching and gaining respect for how Choo goes about his business.
For instance, not many 14-year veterans arrived to spring training nearly two weeks sooner than necessary. Choo is always the first player to the Surprise Recreation Campus and often to Globe Life Park or any visiting venue during the regular season.
The Rangers expect Choo to handle a significant chunk of the leadership duties.
“The one thing about Choo is he’s just consistent,” manager Chris Woodward said. “He’s regimented. He’s very professional. In the past he leads more so by example, but the conversations we’ve had, he’s interested in taking the team in a different direction, a more positive direction. I think he will be more vocal than he’s been in the past. I think that will help a lot of our younger players.”
The Rangers also expect him to reach base at his usual clip. He posted a .377 on-base percentage, just blow his .378 career number, and despite a 76 point decline from his first-half .405 OBP that was fueled by his club-record 52-game on-base streak.
He beat Gallo and Jurickson Profar by one for the team-high in runs scored, 83, and led by a wide margin in walks, drawing 92 of them compared to 74 by Gallo.
The Rangers like to use the DH spot as an avenue to giving players days off their feet, so expect to see Choo in right field a few times a week.
Also don’t be surprised to hear Choo mentioned frequently as a prominent team leader. He’s planning to be one.
“We talked a lot about bringing the group together more, kind of everyone coming under one umbrella,” Woodward said. “He’s really on board with that. That would be a huge impact on getting everyone on the same page and pulling in the same direction.”