Tag Archives: Ji-man Choi

The Sad, Strange Case of Ji-Man Choi

Baseball’s a funny game. You can love your team. Then, if you love them enough, you’ll love their top prospects. If you love the top prospects enough, you’ll start to learn about the top performers on each farm team. It goes on and on until you start reciting the Clinton Lumberkings lineup numbers to your friends at a dinner party. Some people say it’s a waste of time and that’s fine.

In 2009, the Mariners sent some scouts to South Korea to take a look at a group of pitchers, namely Seon Gi Kim.  The Mariners ended up signing that pitcher and brought him stateside.  Catching Kim that day was a converted third basemen who not many knew about.  The Mariners liked what they saw in the short tryout and decided to sign him, as well.  This happens fairly often.  Teams take flyers on guys and this third basemen-turned-catcher happened to be one.

Once stateside in 2010, these 2 players joined the Arizona rookie league.  Kim had good stuff but sported a ballooned ERA.  The other South Korean didn’t have any trouble though.  He hit .360 with a .440 OBP and .517 slugging percentage.  He was eventually promoted to the high-A team, High Desert, and posted an .822 OPS all as a 19-year-old.  Mariners prospect nerds became enticed with this player who was unknown a year before.  The legend of Ji-Man Choi was born.

While Choi was hitting everything in sight, the Mariners were slowly breaking him into the catcher position.  He played most of his time and first base and DH but every third or fourth day he’d be behind the plate.  Needless to say, a left-handed hitting catcher who drew a ton of walks was pretty exciting.

2011’s spring training rolled around and there was Choi, working out with the catchers.  Then, all of a sudden, he was just gone.  Following minor-league baseball is hard to do in this day and age because we, as fans, are so used to getting all the information we want right away.  When a low-minors baseball player disappears from box scores there’s only so much a common fan can try to figure out.  This was the case with Choi.  Eventually it came out that Ji-Man had back pain.  The pain was so extensive that he didn’t play a game in 2011.  They eventually found a broken bone and then inserted a rod and two screws into Choi’s back.

The first few months of 2012 came and went and there was no sign of him in the box scores.  He had the rod and screws removed and later showed up in Clinton in late May.

Missing your 20 year-old season as a baseball player is a big deal.  That’s one of the formative years for prospects.  Choi hadn’t played in a baseball game in almost a year and a half.  He was inserted into the Clinton lineup and on his first day back he went 2-4 with a double.

Ji-Man looked as if he hadn’t missed any time at all.  He split that time in 2012 rotating between first base and DH and ended.  He wasn’t great but he was good and, as a 20 year-old, he put up an .895 OPS.

As prospect lists became to come out over that off-season, Choi was left off.  There were two reasons for this:  One, he had just been injured for a year and a half.  Two, he didn’t have enough power to be a major league first baseman. Ji_Man_Choi_1280_kju6a1er_qc4gs806

2013 came and Ji-Man started the year at High Desert.  A hitters paradise.  In his 48 games there Choi posted a .337/.427/.619 slash line.  He had more extra base hits than singles and walked 27 times while only striking out 33 times.  Naturally, he was promoted to Jackson, the Mariners AA team.  The average dropped off some there but not much else did.  He sported .862 OPS in his stop in Jackson, a much tougher league to hit in, at the ripe age of 22.  My favorite stat from there?  His 32 walks and 28 strikeouts.  At the end of his great season, he got the call up to Tacoma for a handful of games.  It was the cherry on top of a great season.

Choi started appearing on more prospect lists over this off-season.  One complaint remained.  Yep, you guessed it.  He can’t hit for enough power.  Still, the Ji-Man train trudged on.

He started 2014 in Tacoma.  Guess what he did there?  Hit.  He hit a lot.  In 10 games he posted a .395/.500/.545.  Granted, it was 10 games but anyone who had followed his career wasn’t surprised.  The guy had already overcome so much, being only 22, that it wasn’t a surprise that he was, well, a surprise.

Maybe the Mariners finally had a guy to push Justin Smoak.  A guy who maybe didn’t have the power potential but actually had some consistency.  A guy who could possibly do what John Olerud did on the last successful Mariners team, get on base, hit doubles and play great defense.

Word broke this afternoon that Ji-Man Choi had been suspended 50 games for the use of a performance enhancing drug.  The drug was methandienone, a type of anabolic steroid.

It just made so much sense.  A guy who was constantly knocked for his lack of home run power at a power position was taking an illegal substance to make him stronger.  He’s only like 195 pounds, for crying out loud.  Then, this came out, via Choi:

“A banned substance was detected in my urine sample,” Choi said. “I do not know what I could have taken that caused me to test positive. I have not and never would knowingly use anything illegal to enhance my performance. However, I also understand that without an explanation I must serve a suspension and I accept that. I look forward to putting this behind me and to returning to help the Mariners ballclub once my suspension has ended.”

Maybe it didn’t make sense at all?  Why would a guy who has never been the ‘star prospect’ but overcome that with pure skill and a disciplined approach break from that?  Choi is a smart baseball who makes up for his lack of home runs by taking his walks and hitting the ball into the gap.  Why would a smart guy do this when he was so close?

The only person who knows if Choi took this steroid is Choi himself.  He said he didn’t and many people probably don’t believe him.  He’s probably used to people doubting him anyway.  Hopefully, he doesn’t care.

Baseball’s interesting.  You know 25 guys and then you read about the next 25 guys people think you might see in a few years.  It goes on and on until someone tells you to shut up at a dinner party.  For some reason, I love Ji-Man Choi’s story and today it took another turn.  My favorite prospect, a guy I’ve never seen play a game, is out for a while because he possibly did something bad and I’m upset.  I’ll look forward to early June when Choi will show back up in the Tacoma box scores and Mike Curto will send out tweets about his 2-4 nights, with a double and a walk.  In the mean time I’ll just keep envisioning Choi as the next John Olerud.  That’s ending of his story that I like the best.

I wonder how Jabari Blash is doing.

– Andrew

 

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He’s the Ji-Man!

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.

– Andrew

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Some Minor Promotions

The Mariners roster is in disarray.  There are moves that have happened (Jesus Montero is in Tacoma), moves that might be happening (nobody knows what’s going on with Andino as of 1:50 P.M. today) and moves that should happen (Aaron Harang is still on the roster).  There is mass speculation on what the Mariners should do.  Some of it is intelligent, some of it isn’t at all.  Most people calling into radio stations aren’t, I’ve found in the last two days.

This paragraph should be a separate blog post but I wanted to throw it in anyway.  Form your own opinions on these Mariners roster decisions (and all decisions for that matter).  When you do, form the opinions after you are informed and read multiple reports.  There are plenty of statistics and a fountain of information a few clicks away.  Go make informed opinions.

I’m not going to add to the Mariner speculation mainly because there is too much of it right now.  Instead, this post is about guys down in the lower minors who may be promoted to a higher level in the next month or so, due to good performance.  I’ll start with the low minors and work my way up, picking a few guys from each level.

Clinton Lumberkings (One of the best mascot names)

Dylan Unsworth (SP) – Unsworth has put up great numbers in the minors in the last year and a half.  His K/BB ratio is 34/2 right now.  He’s pitcher 47 innings and has walked 2 guys.  He is right-handed and doesn’t crack 90 MPH so odds are against him but I’m interested in how his 2.49 ERA and one HR given up all year would translate in Jackson (AA) or High-Desert (high-A).

Grady Wood (RP) – Wood is the closer in Clinton.  He’s sporting a 2.78 ERA and has a 20/5 K/BB ratio.  He’s 23 and was drafted last year where he pitched for Everett.  I should state that Clinton usually favors pitchers while High-Desert heavily favors hitters.

Others worth considering:
Tyler Pike (SP) 38 IP, 2.37 ERA, 34/17 K/BB
Dario Pizzano (RF) .327/.396/.483 14 doubles and 3 HR

High-Desert Mavericks 

Ji-Man Choi (1B) – Choi is somewhat of a cult hero in the Mariners minor league system.  He has always put up good numbers but never seems to stay healthy.  This year he has been on the field and, surprise, he’s put up great numbers.  He’s gone through position changes and is at first base right now (although he has played a little bit of third).  Choi just had his 21 game hit streak snapped.  His slash line is .356/.449/.658 bringing his OPS to 1.107.  It’s not all High Desert, either.  On the road his OPS is still over 1.000.  The downside to Choi, other than the health issues, is that he doesn’t have a lot of home run power.  He’s hit 6 home runs (3 on the road, 3 at home) but he does hit a lot of doubles (21) and plays good defense.  He has 30 extra base hits in 40 games.  Of all of the guys I want called up to the next level, Choi probably tops the list.

Chris Taylor (SS) – So, who’s the Mariners shortstop of the future?  Chris Taylor is entering that conversation (along with Nick Franklin, Carlos Triunfel, and Brad Miller).  Taylor was drafted last year out of the University of Virginia (he was teammates with Danny Hultzen and John Hicks, also in the Mariners system).  Taylor has hit at every level, so far, and is probably the best defensive shortstop in the system.  Taylor is hitting  .342/.444/.522 with an OPS of .966.  His OPS on the road is .860, so he’s not solely benefitting from High Desert.  He doesn’t have a ton of power (19 extra base-hits in 46 games) but he has good plate discipline.  Brad Miller just got called up to Tacoma, so Taylor may be sent up to Jackson before this post is finished.  That seems like it’d be a good move.

Others Worth Considering:
George Mieses (RP) 23.2 IP, 4.94 ERA, 26/10 K/BB
 (ERA is tough to judge in High Desert).

Jackson Generals 

Taijuan Walker (SP) 52 IP, 2.77 ERA, 57/25 K/BB

Walker is still probably the top prospect in the Mariners system.  People say he’s struggling, but these numbers aren’t really showing that.  His walks are higher than everyone would like but a little bit of wildness doesn’t put me off as much as it does others.  His strikeouts are through the roof and opposing batters are hitting .197 against him.  Walker could receive a promotion once Harang is DFA’d or a few Tacoma pitchers are called up.  

Julio Morban (OF) 

Julio is like Ji-Man Choi or Franklin Gutierrez, if you’d rather.  He puts up great numbers while on the field but he can’t stay on the field enough.  When Morban is on the field he is easily their best outfield prospect.  Morban’s slash line is .344/.394/.563 making his OPS .957.  Morban has only played in 27 games this year though and that’s the real problem.  Having him healthy would be a big boost for the Mariners system.

Others Worth Considering:
Chance Ruffin (SP) 47 IP, 2.87 ERA, 33/10 K/BB (Yes, he was bad, but he seems to be doing well in the new starting role.  He could just be benefitting due to the lower level though.)
Carson Smith (RP) 14.1 IP, 3.14 ERA, 20/5 K/BB (Smith had a rough beginning to the season but has since calmed down and looked very good.  I mean, look at those strikeouts.)

As I mentioned, Brad Miller has just been called up to Tacoma to replace Triunfel.  As a hitter, think of him as Kyle Seager.  A few home runs here and there but more doubles than anything.  Although Nick Franklin is a popular target at this point, Miller could become just as popular in a matter of weeks.

Until next time!  Believe Big!

Andrew

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The Mariners of the Future: Catcher

The Mariners are in a weird spot right now.  They’re inconsistent and pretty bad more often than not, but then they run off a hot streak every so often.  They have mostly young talent with promise.  The problem is that few of those guys are performing in a way that cements them as a future Mariner.  Even fewer have the type of elite talent where they should be penciled into future line-ups regardless of current production.  When you add in the minor leaguers, the roster is becoming a logjam of guys with unclear talent levels.

I’d expect we’ll start to see some changes, perhaps as soon as the trading deadline.  It’s possible that any of the few veterans on the team might be traded, but what will be more interesting is if Jack Zduriencik packages a few guys to get more proven performers.  This roster has too many unproven, promising players that need to be made into a cohesive, productive roster.

With all that in mind, this is a good time to look at the players that might figure into the Mariners’ plans over the next few years.  I’m going to take this position-by-position and just run through some names, with my opinion of how I’d lay out the roster, if I have one.

Catcher is first up.  A year or two ago, catcher was the most talent-starved position in the system.  That’s been almost completely reversed now.  In about a year, the Mariners have drafted about seven catchers with promise and traded for Jesus Montero and John Jaso.  That’s a pretty good influx.  Still, there’s no definite catcher for the future due to shortcomings for each of them.  Here’s the rundown: Continue reading

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Checking in on the Young ‘Uns – Clinton

The Mariners are currently ahead by two touchdowns in Texas, Justin Smoak seems like a new man, and Kyle Seager could be the Mariners new 3 hitter for the rest of the season but this good guy is still talking about a minor league team.  Why?  Because it’s the last one in a series and I promised myself I’d finish this before I’d write anything else.  There’s nothing worse than breaking promises to yourself.

I’ve covered Tacoma, Jackson, and High Desert in the last couple of weeks (read them by clicking on the location that you’re interested in).  Today, I’m going to check in on some of the guys from the Clinton Lumberkings (low-A ball).  Aside from the awesome nickname, Clinton doesn’t have the most exciting club.  They are 18-33 and haven’t had anybody completely surprise us like Taijuan Walker did last year (although, that’s not completely fair to say because Walker is a first round draft pick who pitches with that kind of talent).  One thing to consider is that high draft picks from Monday’s draft (especially college guys) who sign quickly could be sent to Clinton.  That’s one thing to look for.  Anyway, I’ll highlight some guys, starting with position players.  If you have any questions let me know in the comments.

Steve Baron (C) – .226/.271/.351, 2 HR, 1 3B, 13 2B, 17 RBI, 36/9 K/BB, .622 OPS.

I include Baron because he was 1st-round draft pick and people usually like to follow along with those.  The truth is, Baron probably isn’t a serious prospect and most people don’t see him reaching the majors.  On the plus side, he’s very young still and he has improved some.  He’s hit a good amount of doubles this season and that’s great to see.  He’s also hit 2 home runs in the last 3 days.  You go, Steve!  Otherwise, his hitting is really lacking.  People say he’s good defensively but I can’t really speak to that.  More doubles and more walks, Steve!

Mike Dowd (C) – .244/.320/.267, 2 2B, 12 RBI, 8/11 K/BB, .587 OPS.

Dowd has only played in 25 games this year, so this is a pretty small sample size.  Dowd obviously isn’t hitting for much power but the walks are nice.  Dowd is another defense first catcher who is just a few months older than Baron.  Maybe one of these guys will work out but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Dan Paolino (2B) – .258/.329/.386, 3 HR, 8 2B, 20 RBI, 15/12 K/BB, .715 OPS. 

Paolino was a 10th round pick in last years draft and has been doing alright in Clinton.  There’s not a lot of power coming out of him.  He’s splitting time at 2nd with Dillon Hazlett who is basically hitting the exact same as him.  Anyway, Paolino isn’t striking out much and is walking some.  His OPS is acceptable for a middle infielder but he’s not blowing anyone away.

Guillermo Pimental (LF) – .206/.255/.301, 2 HR, 7 2B, 18 RBI, 49/7 K/BB, .557 OPS.

This is disappointing.  We had a discussion on this blog before the season about Pimental being the number 2 prospect in the system by the start of next season.  That seems like a long ways off at that moment.  Pimental has struck out in over a 1/3 of his at-bats.  His power hasn’t quite come either.  He has been abysmal against southpaws, sporting a .065 batting average.  Pimental did seem like he was getting going but then got injured and was out for about 2 weeks.  He has come back recently and we’ll see if he continues to heat up.  The hope is still high on him, but this season shows that he may have a long ways to come.

Jabari Blash (RF) – .220/.342/.421, 8 HR, 2 3B, 5 2B, 23 RBI, 53/29 K/BB, .763 OPS.

Blash is a 3 outcome hitter – a strikeout, walk or extra base hit.  Having an OBP that’s .122 points higher than his batting average speaks to his abilities in taking a walk.  Like Pimental, Blash has struck out in about a 1/3 of his at-bats.  Blash is really pretty interesting although I don’t know if he’ll ever make it up to the bigs.  I’d like to see the crazy stats he could put up in High-Desert because of his power.

Ji-Man Choi (C?/1B/DH) has just joined the club recently.  Choi was an intriguing prospect but spent most of last year injured.  He has played catcher but it looks like that might be over with after his injuries.  The guy can hit but I don’t know if he can hit enough to be a major league first baseman.

Pitchers (all 2 of them) after the jump. Continue reading

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Your 2011 Mariners- Catcher

I guess I’ll get this position over with so we can look at some slightly less depressing spots on the roster.

Catcher

On the Roster

Adam Moore- Not having paid much attention to the last couple of months of the season, I busted out Moore’s monthly splits.  I was under the vague impression that his bat was a little better after he returned to the Mariners.  I was wrong. He did show a little more power, with three homers from August on, but that’s the extent of anything promising.  His best stretch of the season was for about three games right before he got injured.  Lots of rookies struggle, especially if they’re catching, but it’s not looking good for Moore.  I’d be curious as to how his defense looked by the end of the year.  Any thoughts?

Rob Johnson- Just going to move on.

Contract is Up

Josh Bard- Technically, Bard is a free agent, but I’m sure the Mariners could resign him if they want to.  Bard was probably the best catcher on the roster, but that’s not saying a lot.  He’s a decent backup, which is all he should be.  Unfortunately, in 2010 he was frequently the best option to start that the Mariners had. Continue reading

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