Choi will sharpen game on the farmRandall Simons is no doubt psyched to be a Cub, getting out of Pittsburgh, where he might have been known as the “sausage killer” for years to come after hitting the Milwaukee Brewers’ mascot.
The Cub’s skipper Dusty Baker is probably happy to get someone in his lineup who will provide some much-needed pop from the left side. Choi Hee-seob, who operated in a platoon system with Eric Karros at first base, is being dropped back to the minors, but with the Cubs chasing a chance to make the playoffs you cannot question their skipper’s decision to go with the guy who is hot and bench the guy who is not.
You can argue that a youngster can hardly improve by having only one or two appearances at the plate a week. To some extent, I agree with the notion that using Choi as a pinch hitter is not exactly the best way to familiarize him with baseball’s best pitching. Nevertheless, being in third place in the National League Central Division, only one and a half games behind first place Houston Astros (as of Thursday), Dusty opted for the present, not the future, although I have the feeling that the present will not be long-lived. So far, ace pitching has carried the Cubs, but their hurlers are just not enough for them to be serious contenders.
Now, I have no doubt that Choi will again prosper in the minors. He posted a .287 batting average with 26 home runs and 97 RBIs last year with the Iowa Cubs.
So what is the use of sending a guy down to the farm, where he has already proved his mettle? Although he will not face the same pitching quality as in the pros, Choi will get his much-needed at-bats to regain his confidence. Under less pressure, he will also have a chance to hone his batting mechanics.
His swing seems to be a sort of upper-cut version, and those with big cuts usually have a tough time dealing with an inside heater ― except Ken Griffey Jr. ― as Choi has shown. A more compact swing will suit Choi because it would allow him to react quicker on an inside ball, especially upstairs on the high side since the batter has to hit in front of the plate to get the fat part of the bat on these balls.
A batter with a compact swing does not need to adjust to a pitcher’s throwing style or the ball count. You can play your own game and sit and wait a split second longer at the plate, which gives you a better look at what is being thrown to you. At the end of the day, the eternal struggle between pitcher and batter is essentially a waiting game: the batter waiting for the pitch he hits best and the pitcher trying not to throw it to him. So a compact swing definitely gives the batter an edge.
Showing splashes of potential when he was named rookie of the month in early April, Choi has shown that he has upside potential. Being solid at defense, his prospects are bright but folks, including myself, who jumped to the hasty conclusion that Choi may be the next big thing may have to wait another season or maybe two before Choi puts up the numbers many people think he is capable of.
Unless the Cubs win the World Series, I do not think there will be anyone posing a serious challenge to Choi’s future at first base next season. Karros and Simon are journeymen, which will not last long. If I am not mistaken, the Cubs have not given up on Choi and he is still in their future.
by Brian Lee
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