Shin-soo Choo: Shooting for the Stars

In only a matter of three years, Shin-soo Choo has went from a stud pitcher in Korea to one of the top outfield prospects in the Mariners organization. Choo sat down with InsidethePark's Joe Ruiz recently and talked about everything from why he bulked up this offseason to what his goals are for 2004.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

While this was meant for something much larger than sports, the premise remains true in the measure of how a person responds to periods of adversity. As the times go, San Antonio Missions outfielder Shin-soo Choo feels he's in that situation right now, battling every day to prove his status as one of the Mariners' top prospects.

Despite possessing very respectable numbers through the first week of May - .270, 5 HR, 6 2B, 2 3B, 16 RBI - Choo says he feels like he's in a bit of an early-season slump. The Pusan, Korea native may be his own worst critic, however, since his stats through 100 at bats show that he's actually improved in several offensive categories.

One of the most notable improvements has been his increased power. Prior to this season, Choo hit a home run once every 54 at bats (20/1083). As a Mission, he's hitting a one in every 20 at bats (5/100).

The fourth-year minor-leaguer attributes the increase to off-season training and a shift in focus, but he's quick to mention that power hitting isn't the only tool he hopes to improve.

"All I did was weight-train in the off-season," said Choo. "The past three years, I worked on being a better hitter. I wanted to try this year to change my swing. I want to try the same swings and practice and get better. I'm not thinking ‘home run'."

Choo also mentioned that he's taking more time to practice not only his swing, but his defense and base running. He credits his improvements this season to the extra time he has spent working with Missions' hitting coach Gary Thurman.

"Anytime I had a problem or something I wanted to work on, I'd work with Coach (Thurman)," said Choo. "I'd come in early, come in three hours before to work with him."

This season isn't the first time Choo and Thurman have crossed paths. Thurman was the manager of Mid-A Wisconsin from 2000-02 and worked with many of the current Missions in 2002.

Having not seen Choo in over a year heading into the season, Thurman has been impressed with the progress the outfielder has made since the two were together at Wisconsin.

"He's really improved on pulling inside pitches," said Thurman. "His outfield play, especially on the wall, he's working on taking better angles to the ball. He's really come along way."

Prior to the 2004 campaign, one of the concerns about Choo - and one that many worried could keep him from the elite prospect status - was his plate discipline. And again this season, the 21-year-old has struggled in that area with 24 strikeouts and 12 walks in his first 100 at bats.

Converted to outfielder after a stellar high school pitching career, the move has gone well so far but Thurman hopes to see Choo continue to improve with his plate discipline as well as other areas of his game.

"We want him to be a little more aggressive, especially in the outfield," said Thurman, a former major league outfielder himself.

"Charging balls with runners in scoring position, making the right throws, things like that. But he's coming along really well."

Choo says choosing to sign with Seattle out of Korea wasn't a difficult choice. Luckily for the Mariners, they had an advantage from the get-go.

"My friend, Cha Seung (Tacoma relief pitcher Cha Seung Baek) and I went to the same high school (Pusan High School) and he signed with Seattle," said Choo. "I also liked the Mariners."

Now in Double-A, Choo is hopeful that he can stay heathly enough to turn in a terrific 2004 season. With developing power at the plate and one of the strongest outfield arms in the Mariners' organization, there's no reason to believe he can't do just that.

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