The Rangers traded assurance for upside this offseason, shipping established fourth outfielder Craig Gentry to the Athletics for power hitting prospect Michael Choice.
Choice, 23, will now serve as Texas’s new fourth outfielder, and he has the potential to be a very good one. The former 11th overall pick has been a consistent force over the coures of his professional career, owning an .858 OPS across three and a half seasons. His calling cards are plate discipline and power, which he showed to some extent at Triple-A Sacramento last season, as he hit .302/.390/.445 with an 11.5% walk rate (MLB average is 9%) and 14 home runs.
The 14 home runs may not seem impressive from a player who is supposed to have plus raw power, and it’s not, but Sacramento’s Raley Field is a tough ballpark to hit home runs in and Choice hit 10 of his 14 long balls on the road. In total, he actually posted a .336/.417/.517 line on the road, but those numbers are inflated by the hitter friendly environments elsewhere in the PCL. The last time Choice hit in a hitter friendly ballpark, 2011 for High-A Stockton, he knocked out thirty home runs. Where is the real Choice? Probably somewhere in the middle. Watching him in batting practice, his latent power is obvious, but in-game, he is realistically a twenty homer guy.
The problem for Choice, and one of the primary reasons that he fails to fully tap into his raw strength, is that he struggles to make contact. Last year, he whiffed in 19.2% his at bats,a modest improvement over previous seasons, but he still managed to rack up 115 strike outs. Although the sample size is very small, in 19 major league plate appearances last September, Choice struck out six or 31% of his at bats. Next year, ZIPs projects a 23.1% rate for the rookie outfielder, which could seriously cut in to his batting average, which has been high throughout his minor league career.
Defensively, Choice is best suited as an above average left fieldier, once he gets a starting job. Until then, he has the speed and ability to play all three outfield positions part time, although Rangers fans should not expect anything close to the show that the defensively gifted Craig Gentry put on before he left.
There is however, one scenario where Choice primarily plays one position: right field. The Rangers paid a lot of money – 130 million to be exact – to sign Shin Soo Choo this offseason, but they can’t ignore the fact their new star simply can’t hit lefthanders. Over the course of his career, Choo has a .932 OPS against righthanders and a .680 OPS against lefthanders. Last year was even more extreme, as he posted an OPS .399 points higher against righthanders than lefthanders (1.011 against .612), and in 181 at bats, did not hit a single home run off of a southpaw. Choo is a superstar against righties; he is not even a major league quality hitter against pitchers against lefties.
Which is why the Rangers should make Choo the most well compensated platoon player in the history of the game and sit him in favor of Michael Choice when a southpaw takes the hill. The right handed hitting Choice isn’t nearly as skewed in his splits as Choo is, but he can certainly hit lefties well. Last year, the young outfielder hit .304/.408/.443 against them, and in 2011, his OPS was a 100 points higher (.997) when facing one.
As far as fourth outfielders goes, Michael Choice is as intriguing as it gets. He is a top prospect, having been ranked as the 72nd best in baseball by MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo, who could either wreck with mammoth power or be wrecked by a crippling propensity to swing and miss.