The countdown moves on to No. 8, a former pitcher with solid tools across the board.
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||No. 8 – Shin-soo Choo, OF
| Ht/Wt: 5-11/200
| Bats/Throws: L/L
| Acquired: Signed as non-drafted free agent in 2000
| Signed By: Mariners' scouts Jae Lee and Jim Colburn
After setting career highs in every offensive category in 2004 with Double-A San Antonio, the 22-year-old Choo took two steps forward, but three steps back in 2005. He retained his advanced ability to take walks and make the pitcher work, but his power fell off the table in the Pacific Coast League. Choo did rebound from a horrific first half to hit well over .300 and increase his power numbers during the final 45 days of the season.
Choo does a lot of things well, but his only plus tools are his raw speed and throwing arm, the two least valuable skills in the toolbox. The South Korea native possesses solid on-base skills and can leg out the gap hit for a triple. He made a solid adjustment defensively last season, but still has a ways to go to present the Mariners with an everyday option.
Choo has more raw power than his numbers suggest and should be able to make an adjustment on the bases after seeing his stolen base totals cut in half, down to 20.
The left-handed hitting Choo sometimes gets caught up in the walks game, letting far too many drivable pitches hit the catcher's mitt. Even in swing mode, he often allows pitches to get up on him, forcing adefensive swing and limiting his power.
He must develop a consistent approach that allows him to maximize athletic skills that include decent power and better than average speed.
Defensively, Choo needs to improve his routes on fly balls. At the moment, he's an average defender, though his throwing arm certainly gives him a weapon that most do not possess.
Tools: Scouting Profile
Hitting for Average: 50+
Choo's ability to hit for a solid average at the highest two levels of the minors is a sign that, given the opportunity, he could probably peak out in the .280s as a big leaguer. He knows how to work the count and make the pitcher throw him something he can handle.
His biggest problem area lies in what he does with that pitch. At times he can be too passive early in counts as he focuses on his table setting skills, which is partially responsible for the inconsistent at-bats he experienced in his first taste of Triple-A.
The club would like to see him cut down on the strikeouts and still get out in front a little more, particularly on fastballs, though he was pull conscious early in '05 and must use his ability to hit to all fields.
He covers the plate well but struggles mightily against left-handed pitching and must progress in his approach against pitchers of his own handedness.
Hitting for Power: 50+
Choo's most critical challenge in 2006 will be to regain the leverage he showed in 2004 when he posted a career best 15 home runs. The physical strength is there, as is the bat speed it generates, as evidenced by the shot Choo hit off Los Angeles Angels minor leaguer Scott Schneider last May.
The 5-foot-11 Choo got around on a Schneider fastball and hit it over the center field wall at Cheney Stadium, the second time in history that the feat had been accomplished. The blast went an estimated 488 feet.
Choo must find a happy medium with his overall offensive approach in order to tap back into his power stroke and stay within himself, hitting near the top of the order. He still racks up too many strikeouts for a moderate power hitter.
"He's not likely to all of a sudden start smacking 30 homers," said an American League scout. "But because he can work a walk and has the tools for it, he should be able to hit his ceiling in the power department. Somewhere in the 15-20 range would be my best estimation."
Choo played right field until 2005, but his natural skills suggest he probably should have been used regularly in center in the lower minors to test whether he could handle the position long-term. His bat plays better in center, but he began his quest to learn to play left field last season with the presence of Ichiro, the game's best defensive right fielder, on the 25-man roster.
Choo has the speed to play anywhere in the outfield and is sure-handed when he gets to balls. His first step is inconsistent, but some of that is to be expected after the move across the outfield grass. He occasionally has trouble coming in on bloopers and can be fooled on line drives hit right at him.
The skills are there for Choo to be well above average, but there's work to be done to reach that level.
"I'm not convinced he shouldn't have been playing center all along," said a former National League scout. "He'll need time to get acclaimated to left, but he should be fine."
Choo was a threat to gun down every runner trying to get to second on a double off the wall in left at Cheney Stadium last summer. And while he didn't catch all of them, it certainly seemed that way.
The former amateur pitcher is accurate with his cannon arm and makes smart throws to the right base consistently. His arm is an asset at all three outfield positions and may be of more use in his new spot in left. Along with T.J. Bohn, Choo has the best outfield arm in the system.
Choo is maturing physically but hasn't lost much speed in the process. He's still capable of reaching double-figures in triples and swiping 30 bases, and his speed is a useful tool for him defensively. Fast enough to leg out a few infield hits or bunt his way on base, Choo possesses the plus speed necessary to hit near the top of the lineup.
Choo still has a chance to be an everyday player, but it may not be in Seattle. The big club is in need of power in the outfield and Choo appears to be more of a table setter. Whether he gets his shot in an M's uniform or is part of a trade this summer, he'll be furthering his development in a repeat showing in Triple-A Tacoma in 2006.
If Choo takes advantage of the off chance to max his power into the 25-homer range, the Mariners would be more than happy with him as Ichiro's replacement in 2008. It's more likely that he is included in a deal this summer.
2006 Projection: .290/.380/.450, 15 HR, 65 RBI, 22 SB
MLB ETA: 2006
MLB COMP: Matt Lawton (SEA), Brad Wilkerson (TEX)
InsideThePark.com's Top 20 Prospects are based on the player's long-term value to the Seattle Mariners organization.
All players that have not exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched at the big-league level are eligible. Service time is not considered.
The Scouting Scale grades are based on a combination of the payers' current and potential future skills.