Note: My first book: The 2014 Prospect Digest Annual, which is currently on sale on Amazon for $2.99. Find out where Ji-Man Choi ranks among the game’s top prospects.
Ever since signing with the Mariners in early July 2009, Ji-Man Choi has done one thing really, really well: hit. Through the first three-plus seasons of his professional career, the Korean-born lefty-swinger owns a .323/.424/.522 line.
After hitting a lofty .360/.440/.517 as a 19-year-old in 2010, Choi missed the following season – reportedly due to a back injury that essentially forced the converted catcher to first base. The time away, however, did little to damper his impressive skill set.
During his 2012, which, admittedly, should have landed him among the team’s top 16 prospects, Choi hit .298/.420/.463 with an elite eye at the plate (13.3% BB-rate), strong contact skills (18.7% K-rate), and solid average power (.165 ISO). The lone red flag being his age at the time: 21.
This season, though, Choi has blazed through High-A by hitting .337/.427/.619 with a minors-leading total of 24 doubles, three triples, and seven homeruns; all the while showing an elite eye (12.8%) and a modest strikeout rate (15.6%).
This led the Mariners to recently promote their potential first baseman of the future to Class AA, putting Choi against older competition for the first time in his career.
So, is Ji-Man Choi the real deal?
Well, sort of.
The California League, home to the High Desert Mavericks, is the premier offensive environment among all of the stateside levels, leading the way with an absurd 5.12 runs per game. It gets worse though. High Desert’s home ballpark, aptly named Mavericks Stadium, adds to the inflated offensive numbers too.
According to MinorLeagueCentral.com, the ballpark is sporting some absurd hitter-friendly park factors: 125 for runs, 112 for hits, 116 doubles, and a league high 138 for homeruns (PFs for 2012). All that means, of course, is that Choi’s numbers this season need to be looked at with some caution.
Still, though, using Weighted Runs Created Plus, a park and league adjusted metric measuring all offensive contributions, his production was 73% better than the Cal League average, the highest in the league.
Choi’s power grades out as solid-average and the doubles should eventually turn into 20 homeruns potential down the line, though he needs to show some more loft (46.3% GB-rate with High Desert). He’s always shown strong plate discipline. And despite the lackluster showing this season against fellow southpaws (.182/.302/.386), he has a decent track record against them throughout his career (.226/.336/.462).
Right now, Choi profiles as a solid prospect, maybe topping out as a 2.5- or 3.0-win player during his peak years. And he probably rank somewhere near the latter part of the team’s top 10 prospects.
Photo of Ji-Man Choi Courtesy of Bill Mitchell/Four Seam Images via MiLB.com