As of late, many of the Mariners young exciting position prospects have graduated to the big league level. For the first time in a while, the big league club is more exciting than daydreaming of the future while you look at minor league box scores. But, the minor leagues are a constant beam of sunshine creeping up to the horizon. More players will put up good results resulting in more hope. So, if you’re suffering from withdrawals from not seeing Zunino and Miller in Tacoma, here’s a new guy to keep an eye on: Ji-Man Choi.
Choi’s story is an interesting one. He is a native of South Korea and was signed by the Seattle Mariners on July 2nd of 2009 as a 17-year-old. The hope was that Choi could keep playing catcher, as his bat was well ahead of his defense. In 2010, Ji-Man reported to the rookie league in Arizona. He started ten games at catcher and, while he didn’t excel there, the hope remained that he could be a catcher. He certainly hit well, posting a .360/.440/.517 line between the rookie league and High Desert. All of this as an 18 and 19-year-old.
2011 came and didn’t bring good news with it. Choi lost the entire year to injury (mostly his back, but a few issues with his knees if I remember right). These were the developmental years that were hard to get back. Losing a year is what derails prospects. Ask Carlos Triunfel.
As 2012 started Ji-Man was nowhere to be found in the system. He was still rehabbing from his injury and finally showed up on the Clinton roster midway through June. When he did show up, his career as a catcher appeared to be over. Choi split his time between first and DH while putting up a .298/.420/.463. They are respectable numbers but he was a 21-year-old playing a power position without much power.
When this year started, Choi was well down on the prospect lists. He started off the year in High Desert and destroyed it. For the Mavericks, Choi had 34 extra-base hits in 181 at-bats and an OBP of .427. He also played a few games at third base and reviews on his defense were pretty high.
Around the first of June, Ji-Man was promoted to double-A Jackson. At 22 years old (still fairly young for the league), he started off slowly. After a couple of weeks he got back to himself and has raised his numbers at Jackson to .271/.373/.528. It appears the Choi has developed more power (as young players are prone to do) and has 15 homers on the year between the two levels. He shows good patience and has always hit doubles at every level.
About a year ago, Ji-Man Choi was an afterthought. As a 21-year-old, Choi’s career was on the verge of being labeled a ‘disappointment’. Now, a year later, he is one of the best hitters in the Mariners’ minor league system.