The theme of Michael Choice's first two-plus years of professional baseball has been adjustments. Choice came to the Oakland A's with unorthodox swing mechanics. For the past two years, Choice and the A's coaching staff have been tinkering with those mechanics to give him the best plate coverage possible.
Those adjustments have resulted in slow starts each of the past two seasons with High-A Stockton in 2011 and Double-A Midland in 2012. In both cases, however, Choice found mechanics that worked for him midway through the season and finished the year on a torrid streak.
In 2011, Choice rode a red-hot second half to take the California League leadership in homeruns with 30. He also hit .285 with a .376 OBP and a .542 SLG and was named a Cal League post-season All-Star. Last season, Choice got off to a slow start, but he found his rhythm in the Texas League shortly before the All-Star break. In June and July, no hitter in the league was hotter than Choice.
Unfortunately, Choice didn't have an opportunity to take that streak into August. He was hit by a pitch in late July that fractured his hand. Choice would miss the rest of the season and the rehab for the injury took him through the fall and winter league season.
There was concern coming into spring training that Choice's timing would be off because of the four-month layoff. However, he put together a strong showing in big league camp and was able to accrue 48 at-bats, good for second-most amongst players who didn't make the A's Opening Day roster.
Coming into the 2013 season, Choice says he feels confident that the adjustments he made last season will help him develop more consistency. The A's have a veteran-laden outfield, so Choice won't likely factor into the A's plans this season unless there are injuries, but a strong season from the 2010 first-round pick could influence the A's decision on whether to bring back Coco Crisp, Chris Young and Seth Smith for 2014.
We spoke with Choice on Tuesday about his mindset heading into this season, his recovery from the hand injury, his work this spring and more…
OaklandClubhouse: What are your expectations going into this year?
Michael Choice: My expectations are just to build off of everything that I was doing at the end of the year in Midland and in spring training. Just stay consistent.
OC: Your season ended early last year because of the broken hand and then you weren't able to play winter ball. What was that break like and how quickly were you able to regain your timing this spring?
MC: The break was long. It was a really long. That was the longest I've ever had between playing games, so I just really tried to stay focused on the routine every day that kept me basically where I finished off. When I came into spring training, the timing actually came a lot sooner than I thought it would. We got a lot of good repetitions with live BP this year. There were not so many outfielders [in big league camp] as there were last year, so we all got more reps and that helped out a lot in getting my timing back.
OC: It looked like to me that you were more comfortable out in centerfield this spring. Do you feel like your defense has improved every year in pro ball?
MC: Definitely. Just getting the amount of repetitions that we do each day during live BP, taking flyballs. I worked on some stuff with Todd Steverson with my feet, just turning my feet to the pull-side. That's helped with initial jumps versus being in limbo in terms of which way you want to turn. That's probably been the biggest factor in my jumps in the outfield.
I also got a chance to go down to Rookie ball when I was rehabbing my hand and Instructional League and I was able to just do some defensive work and some top-hand stuff in the cage. I really stressed working on defense when I was down there.
OC: The Texas League can be tough on hitters, especially right-handed hitters like yourself that like to go the other way, because of the winds. Was it frustrating last season not to get the results sometimes from good swings?
MC: Oh yeah. For sure. I found that pretty early on. I was like, ‘man, I've really got to pull the ball here.' But I tried not to worry about it and take the same swings and not adjust to the park too much. Eventually, it kind of started to catch on in San Antonio and I started to find some gaps. But Midland is definitely a tough place for a right-handed hitter to hit, unless you are just a dead-pull guy.
OC: As a pro, it seems like you've been a slow starter before finishing your seasons red-hot. Is that something that has always been the case for you, even back in high school or college?
MC: It's been basically the last two years, and I think basically it had a lot to do with making adjustments. In college and stuff, I never worked on trying to change anything, but when I got to pro ball, I've always been working on trying to change something. Basically the last two years, I felt like I battled the first half because I was always trying to work on something new. I'd have four at-bats where I was trying four different stances and four different leg-kicks. That doesn't help at all. I finally found an approach that I think is going to work and is going to help me stay consistent.
OC: You got a lot of at-bats during big league games this spring. How much did that help your confidence going into this season?
MC: It helped a lot because I wasn't worried so much about the four-month break that I had, not being able to go play winter ball. It was just basically picking up where I left off without anything else on my mind except trying to get better the next day.
OC: You welcomed a son into the world last year. How much is having a family changed your perspective as a player?
MC: A little bit. It turns more in business-mode rather than fun-mode, but at the same time, you have to have fun out here if you are going to succeed. It makes it fun. It's a challenge off of the field. You have to have empathy and all of those things. You can't just be mad because you went 0-for-4. But actually it keeps you more level-headed.
OC: There were a lot of veteran outfielders up in Oakland. Did you learn anything in particular from them?
MC: Absolutely. The first two years [in big league camp], you feel a little more nervous about asking questions. You don't want to be ‘that guy,' so to speak. But on more of a personal level, you get to know the guys a little bit and you can just ask them stuff. Especially Coco [Crisp]. I've gotten to know him. Just watching Coco and CY [Chris Young], they are two of the best out there, so I try to pick up anything I can from those guys.