A five tool outfielder from Japan is emerging in the Seattle Mariners system. He steals bases and has a cannon for an arm. He is getting better with his English, a bit shy, reticent about doing interviews, and really just wants to play baseball.
We really tried, but it just isn't possible to write an article about Shin-soo Choo without comparing him to Ichiro.
"He's got all the tools." Mike Goff, Choo's manager on the Peoria Desert Dogs says. "It's hard to believe he's only 22 years old some times."
That's the biggest difference between Choo and the Mariners' All-Star, MVP, batting champion, best defensive right fielder in the game, Ichiro. That and the fact that Choo has yet to play a game in the majors. Ichiro was a veteran in the Japanese league, a superstar as a matter of fact, before joining the Mariners, Choo is a young outfielder who was just converted from pitcher to outfielder.
Goff has seen a lot of Choo, and has worked a lot with Choo. Goff may be the Desert Dogs manager, but as a representative of the Mariners organization he knows exactly where his focus is. "I work with all the guys on the team, but the Mariners are my guys, and Choo is definitely my guy."
What is he working on with 'his guy?'
"He's raw, he's just been converted, and so we're working on everything with him, but all the tools are there. The biggest thing we've gotten from him is to be more aggressive. On the base paths, in the field, he's realized that he can put pressure on other teams with his speed, and that's been a huge step forward for him."
Goff has been impressed by the kid's poise. "He just takes everything in stride. Direction, criticism, he just understands it will make him better."
Aggressiveness...and? "There is a lot of work ahead of him. He's got to see more lefties, a lot more lefties. We work on his defense a lot, just taking the right lines on fly balls, and all around getting more consistent. At the plate, in the field, and especially on the bases."
So what exactly are Choo's weaknesses? Goff smiles. "I'm not sure I want to say anything. The pitchers down here have started to figure out some of the things he's working on, and I don't want them to have any more ammo." This reporter won't push the issue, except to promise a follow up to this question later in the AFL season.
Goff agrees to the deal, "This kid can do it all, the talent is there, we're just showing him how to do it more often, with more success."
As far as the Ichiro comparisons Goff agrees that they are inevitable, and says Choo understands that too. "He knows that's going to happen, and it makes him work even harder. That's a high bar that's been set."
Can he clear it?
"Eventually I think he can, not that he'll be better than Ichiro, but he'll be..." Goff stops, "he can be real real good."
Phillies in the desert: Ryan Howard, Buzz Hannahan and Chris Roberson both put on some impressive offensive displays Monday. Roberson was hitting leadoff and playing center field and went 2-for-6 and scored two runs, in addition to stealing his third base of the season. He is now hitting .250 on the season. Howard was in his usual fourth spot in the order and went 3-for-4 with two runs scored and two RBI. Howard delivered his seventh double of the season and is now hitting an even .400 in the AFL, good enough for fourth in the league in hitting. Hannahan started at first base and went 2-for-4 with a double, run scored and two RBI. He is now hitting .250 this fall. With the help of their Phillies contingent, the Phoenix Desert Dogs beat the Grand Canyon Rafters 11-8 to move 4 1/2 games ahead of Grand Canyon in the National Division.
The game featured a match-up of Howard and Detroit's Chris Shelton, two of the top hitting prospects in the AFL. Shelton went 4-for-5 with a double, two runs scored and two RBI to up his league leading average to .479 on the season.