Low Class A NotebookWisconsin’s Shin-Soo Choo is honing his game American-style
By Joe Bush
May 14, 2002
ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill.–Shin-Soo Choo is slowly becoming an American ballplayer.
Adjusting to the United States and to the minor leagues is more difficult for Asian players than for Latinos. Yes, they’re all in a different culture, but Latin American players usually have friends on common ground. Only in the last decade have major league teams really mined the Far East.
"We’ve only got two Korean players," Mariners farm director Benny Looper said, "and they’re not on the same team."
The 19-year-old Choo, signed out of high school by Seattle in 2000, travels with an interpreter, and by all accounts is easily handling the off-field aspects of pro ball. He said he’s not homesick, and though he doesn’t have time to sample many of America’s hobbies and diversions, he whistles when he works.
"It feels like home," Choo said. "What I like about America is that all the best players from the world come here to compete, so being involved in that makes me happy."
Wisconsin manager Gary Thurman said Choo is one of the guys. "He’s a great guy," said Thurman, in his third year as Timber Rattlers skipper. "He knows enough English to get him by, and he has fun. He laughs with all the boys, and he takes everything in stride."
The 5-foot-11, 175-pound center fielder is having more trouble getting adjusted on the field. Seattle would like Choo to be more aggressive at the plate, and he is trying to do that while leaving behind three aspects of his days in Korea: shifting his focus from pitching (he won the 2000 World Junior Championship MVP primarily as a lefty with mid-90s heat); batting in a different spot in the order (third instead of leadoff); and facing pitching approaches which to him seem backward.
"Back (in Korea) my style of hitting was pretty much just watch the ball and just hit one I felt comfortable hitting," he said. "Now (Thurman) is trying to emphasize, ‘Hey, you’re in the third spot, so you’ve got to be a little more aggressive with the bat, just anything around the plate.’
"The two main things I’m concentrating on are inside pitches, and staying back. (The offseason) gave me a little bit of time to reflect on the American pitching. In America, on a 2-1 count, they’ll throw a fastball, so they won’t get behind. Over there, it’s the other way around."
Choo started the year with 11 RBIs in 11 games, but had slowed down to 14 in 28 games. His average was .245, he led Wisconsin with 20 runs and had two home runs and five doubles. His other tools have been on display as well: eight steals in 11 attempts, and no errors.
When Looper saw Choo play, he had the same impression Thurman gets every day. "He could be more aggressive with pitches in the strike zone," he said. "He took a few too many pitches."
The Mariners want Choo to give himself a chance to show his power potential.
"We want him to swing the bat," Thurman said. "He’s had some big games, but for the most part he gets himself behind in the count. He’s such a good hitter that he can get away with that, but there’s some pitches that he can drive that maybe he hasn’t swung at in the past. He doesn’t know what he can do with them, but they’re pretty good pitches, especially with men in scoring position with less than two outs."
No Double Duty
As for Choo’s enticing pitching ability, Thurman said Choo will not be called on to work any garbage innings to save the bullpen in a blowout. Choo said he doesn’t miss the mound work, and Looper said there was a practical reason Seattle chose to make him a position player.
"We think he’s a player that can help us win every day instead of every fifth day," Looper said.
Choo is one of a slew of Seattle outfield prospects, and comparisons to Chris Snelling are inviting if only because of their size. Choo said he hasn’t seen Snelling play, and Looper won’t discuss ability, but he said Choo is more athletic-looking than the 5-foot-10, 165-pound Australian. Thurman, however, watched Snelling for 72 games in Wisconsin in 2000.
"Snelling’s a bit more aggressive, especially in the field," Thurman said. "They both run well. Choo runs a little bit better, will steal some more bases. I think Choo’s got a stronger arm, but Snelling’s got a quicker release. Pretty much, they’re top-notch players, both of them."
Choo knows one aspect of baseball is universal–scouting reports. After his 11 RBIs in 11 games, he said he would enjoy the moment.
"I’m having a pretty good start," he said, "but later, when the pitchers find out about my reputation, they might pitch me a little bit tougher."
By Joe Bush
• The bald jokes were out in force as Kane County Cougars general manager Jeff Sedivy shaved his head to make good on a bet with a season-ticket holder.
The fan, who shaves his head, bet Sedivy last August that Kane County would win the Midwest League title. Word got around, and Sedivy was stuck. A month later, the league declared Kane County champion when the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks canceled the title series against South Bend with the Cougars up 1-0.
Sedivy would have gone under the razor on Opening Day at Elfstrom Stadium, but rain canceled the game. He kept his facial hair and is leaving open the possibility he might enjoy being bald.
"I’ve always said that when it finally goes, that’s what I’m going to do," he said. "When it finally all goes, that’s what I’m going to do with it, just shave it."
• Peoria Chiefs outfielder Tim Lemon is showing that he may have finally had enough of the Midwest League. In his third season in the league, Lemon was batting .330. The nephew of former major leaguer Chet Lemon had posted seasons of .225 in 2000 and .222 in 2001.
• Peoria lefthander Tyler Johnson lost a no-hitter in probably the most agonizing way possible–on a forced ruling. Johnson and reliever Jared Blasdell ended up with a combined one-hitter in a 9-0 victory over Michigan, but missed the no-no when the Battle Cats’ Brooks Conrad got a base hit to end the eighth inning.
Johnson had walked Kerry Hodges to start the frame, but with two outs Conrad hit a grounder to the right side. The ball hit the baserunner Hodges, though, leaving the official scorer with no choice but to rule the runner out and credit Conrad with a single.
• Cedar Rapids Kernels lefthander Joe Torres continued his hot start to the season, posting 3-1, 0.68 numbers to stand third in the league in ERA. However, his team was struggling and ended up dropping nine straight–including a game in which manager Todd Claus was intentionally ejected and finished the game in the radio booth.