Choice could be game changer in middle of A's lineup
Oakland's 23-year-old slugging prospect has tools to be dangerous hitter
The thought of an Oakland Athletics outfield that includes power-hitting Yoenis Cespedes and emerging prospect Michael Choice could easily bring great trepidation to the American League in general and the AL West in particular. As a tandem, those guys might hit some real rocket shots.
Choice is a wide-bodied, well-conditioned athlete. At 6-feet and 215 pounds, Choice's physical presence might be mistaken for someone who is sluggish or slow. To the contrary, while Choice is a bit burly, he is also lithe and agile on the bases and in the outfield.
Choice is a right-handed-hitting, game-changing hitter from Mansfield Timberview High School in Arlington, Texas. He was an outstanding high school hitter, as his .506 senior year batting average attests. Choice was a catcher and pitcher at Mansfield Timberview.
Earning a scholarship to the University of Texas at Arlington, Choice really made a name for himself as an impact hitter on the Mavericks baseball team. In his 3 years, he hit .392 with 34 home runs and 162 RBIs.
His countless awards and accolades translated to a first-round selection by the Oakland Athletics. He was the No. 10 overall player selected in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. That was the highest a UTA player had ever been drafted.
Choice began his career playing for the Athletics' Rookie League club and the team's low Class A teams at Arizona and Vancouver. He went to bat a total of 130 times in that rookie season, hitting .266 with an outstanding seven home runs, 10 doubles and two triples. Choice showed that he could power the ball out of the park.
The following season, Choice played at Class A Advanced Stockton in the California League. In 118 games he went to bat 542 times. He hit 30 home runs. He drove in 82 runs and he hit .285. Yes, the California League is viewed as being "hitter friendly." But the hitter still has to be a good friend and put the bat on the ball. That's what Choice did. And that's what he can do.
At the conclusion of the 2011 season, I got to see Choice play in the Arizona Fall League. He looked like the type of hitter who could bring havoc to the opposition. He hit .318 with six homers and 18 RBIs in the short fall season. A right-handed hitter, he punished lefties, hitting .381 against left-handed pitching. But right-handers suffered as well. Choice hit .289 against them.
Defensively, Choice played 17 games in the outfield, including eight in center field, his most common Minor League position. He made one error.
Choice sustained a setback in his development when his hand was broken by a pitch that hit him in late July last season playing for Midland in the Double-A Texas League.
Any injury to a hitter's hand, wrist, or forearm is traumatic. Of course, the hands do a great deal of work generating power and torque in the load and swing of a hitter. It takes time to regenerate the strength lost during inactivity, rehabilitation and recovery. Timing and hand-eye coordination are impacted. And of critical importance, a player may become hesitant and "gun shy" regarding inside pitches.
This season, Choice has rebounded extremely well from his injury. He is hitting .279 at Triple-A Sacramento, known widely as a very difficult hitter's park. He already has nine home runs and 41 RBIs, again showing his power and strength. He has struck out only 46 times in 238 plate appearances. He's making improvement in his contact rate. Strikeouts are less common. That's impressive. So are his 31 walks.
Many times a player will exhibit strength in his upper body and not use his trunk in his swing mechanics. Or, it could be the reverse. He uses his lower body and doesn't get his upper body involved. Choice uses his entire body in his swing. He has strong, thick legs that form the base of his balanced approach with a bat.
Choice doesn't have much of a stride to his swing. He is very quick through the ball and uses his strong wrists to "buggy whip" pitches to the gaps or over the fence. He has excellent bat control that allows him to see the pitch for quite a while before he commits. In my observations, Choice really mashes fastballs -- especially pitcher's mistakes. He's still challenged a bit by sharply breaking curves and sliders. But hang a breaking ball and he'll take it deep.
Choice has enough loft in his swing without using anything close to an uppercut. He is measured and short to the ball for a man of his size and power. He resists the temptation to become overly aggressive.
So with an improving walk rate and his continued power, what does the future hold for Choice?
If he continues with a shorter and more compact stroke, Choice will bring a valued combination of power and a solid batting average to the middle of the batting order. He can run well enough to avoid mistakes on the bases. As a big man, Choice is far from a base clogger.
Defensively, Choice has enough bat, enough arm and enough agility to play either corner. I don't think he has the speed to sustain a full-time role as a center fielder. While his arm isn't the strongest, it is certainly Major League average.
MLB.com ranks Choice the No. 2 A's prospect.
A patient, powerful Choice will be a dangerous Major League hitter. At only 23 years old, Choice profiles as the type of hitter who will get better and better as he sees and adjusts to more and more breaking balls. If he selects pitches he can drive, the opposition will have to deal with an impact hitter to complement Cespedes. That will become a very great challenge.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.