Since joining the Oakland A's as a first-round draft pick out of the University of Texas-Arlington in 2010, outfielder Michael Choice has been given the luxury of time. After starting his first full professional season at Stockton in 2011, Choice has advanced one level each year.
Choice has spent his entire 2013 campaign at Sacramento, playing every day with a clean bill of health, and feels he is finally nearing that elusive first big league promotion.
"I hope [it comes soon]," said Choice, who was the 10th overall pick in 2010. "That's why I'm here. I feel like I've progressed well enough to where I can compete at that level. It's going pretty well at Sacramento. I've definitely improved in the category of going out every day not worrying about anything physical or mental. I'm playing the game and trying to improve on in-game experience."
Through 115 games at the Triple-A level, Choice is hitting an even .300 with 14 homers and a team-best 78 RBI. His 839 OPS is the best since his 2011 stay in Stockton. He is also walking more (61) and striking out less (110) than he did with the Ports, in a similar amount of games.
Sacramento is in the midst of an eight-game road trip to the Midwest, and Choice has responded well to the heat and humidity by hitting safely in his last six games. He's posted nine hits in his past 23 at-bats, including a 3-for-4 effort on August 9th at Omaha.
Rivercats manager Steve Scarsone, who also earned a Triple-A promotion from Midland during the off-season, has worked with Choice for nearly two seasons and believes the player he sees this season is more polished than the one in an injury-shortened 2012.
"I had him last year in Midland and we've seen him grow substantially since the beginning of last season," Scarsone said. "Towards the end of last season, he got hit in the hand and missed the last six weeks of the season. Coming up to that point, he really started to mature and become a more disciplined hitter.
"I think he kind of picked up where he left off this season. He's been a solid offensive player for us in the four hole all year. He's really applied himself, had some tremendous power and is using all fields. He still has some ways to go on the experience level and getting a little bit better idea of how these more advanced pitchers are going to pitch him. He's doing everything he can at this point to prove himself."
Moving to Triple-A, Choice was tasked with facing pitchers who can throw more at him in many different situations.
"The pitchers in Triple-A have four or five pitches and mix it up," he said. "They pitch backwards. You're not going to just get fastballs in fastball counts. You have to not give in to what they're throwing and stick to what is going to keep you successful."
Scarsone says Choice has made a seamless transition because of his work ethic, and he has learned what type of adjustments to make based on what he sees from opposing pitchers.
"The challenge has been these pitchers are able to recognize holes and exploit and make the pitches they need to make accordingly," Scarsone said. "Michael has to make those adjustments, and some nights you do and some nights you don't. The biggest thing I like about him is that he analyzes his at-bats, has a good sense of where he is and what he needs to do, and he puts in the work to get himself ready."
A centerfielder throughout much of his baseball career, Choice made the switch to a corner spot two months into this season. It was a move designed to get him to the big leagues sooner, with the likes of Coco Crisp and Chris Young manning centerfield with the A's.
"The big club saw that if he were to potentially help them out this year, it would probably be in the corners and not in center with Coco and Chris up there," Scarsone said. "Moving to the corners was a good idea and he's transitioned fairly well. He's really done a fine job out there. It wasn't a deer in the headlights for him."
Choice also feels he is up to speed in the corners, and isn't thinking about the nuances that make them different than center.
"I've adjusted well and now it's just an everyday thing," Choice said. "I'm not worried about the foul lines or the wall or the ball tailing. I feel pretty comfortable, so it's just going out and playing."