Move over Choo, it’s Choi’s time to shine

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Move over Choo, it’s Choi’s time to shine


Choi Ji-man of the Tampa Bay Rays hits an RBI single during a game against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas, on Monday. [REUTERS/YONHAP]

Every year the KBO’s best and brightest head to the United States with dreams of making it in the big leagues, but very few actually manage to hold down a lasting career in the MLB.


Choo Shin-soo of the Texas Rangers, left, and Choi Ji-man speak before the game on Monday. [REUTERS/YONHAP]

While seasons often pass by with Korean players in the majors making headlines back home but going unnoticed in the United States, this year things have been a bit different. At the start of the season Choo Shin-soo of the Texas Rangers grabbed the attention of fans on both sides of the Pacific as he went on a record on-base streak.

But as the 2018 MLB season starts to wrap up its not Choo, but Choi Ji-man of the Tampa Bay Rays that is making headlines. Choi hit his 10th home run of the season on Monday, becoming the sixth Korean player to hit double-digit home runs in a single season in the majors. Choi scored the 10th home run in the first game of a three-game series against Choo’s Rangers at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas. The Rays beat the Rangers 3-0 in the opening game.

On the second day, Choi added another RBI and a hit to help the team to a 4-0 victory against the Rangers. In the last of the three-game series on Wednesday, Choi was given a break.

This season, Choi has a batting average of .267 with 10 home runs and 32 RBIs.

“I know he can play, but he didn’t get much opportunity with the [Los Angeles] Angels, Seattle [Mariners], [New York] Yankees even Milwaukee [Brewers],” Choo was quoted as saying on Tampa Bay Time. “I think he’s a great fit for Tampa Bay. I know he’s playing really, really good now. So now you can judge if he can play in the big leagues or not. Now he plays most days and he’s already showed in his stats that he can play, he can hit, so I’m very happy for him.”

Although Choi has been in the United States since 2010, he wasn’t particularly well known in Korea until recently. Choi headed straight to the United States without playing in the KBO after graduating from Dongsan High School in Incheon, following in the footsteps of Choo.

Choi started his career in the United States by joining the Seattle Mariners, and spent most of the last eight years playing for the minor league affiliates of various MLB clubs.

Although Choi was a catcher until high school, he had to change his position to first baseman after receiving back surgery in 2011. Then, having started from a Class A team, Choi quickly got promoted to the Triple A in 2013.

Shortly after playing in Class AA and Triple A teams, Choi finally got added to the Mariners 40-man roster on Nov. 20, 2013. But his stride came to a quick end in April 2014, when he tested positive for methandienone, a type of steroid, and was suspended for 50 games.

Although Choi returned to the Mariners that summer, he ended up leaving the team, signing a minor league contract with the Baltimore Orioles in November 2015. However, Choi’s stay with the Orioles was a brief one, as he made another transfer to the Angels after getting selected in the 2015 Rule 5 Draft.

The Rule 5 Draft is an annual draft held in December at the Winter Meeting of general managers, created to prevent teams from having too many young players on their minor league affiliate teams and allow them to play in the big leagues.

With the Angels, Choi finally made his big league debut in 2016. Over the first two seasons in the MLB he appeared in 60 games with a batting average of .181 with seven home runs and 17 RBIs.

Although Choi’s statistics weren’t good enough to make the starting lineup, his potential and his cheap contract attracted a lot of major league clubs, as he was considered a solid backup player.

After being released by the Angels, Choi spent one season with the Yankees before signing another minor league deal with the Brewers. Although Choi was added to the Brewers’ Opening Day roster and hit two home runs which included his first-ever career grand slam, Choi still got traded to the Rays in June as the team had one too many first basemen.

The move to the Rays turned out to be the right decision. This season, the Rays are considered a weaker team in the American League East so they signed mostly young players with potential and cheaper contracts. Choi signed a split contract with the Brewers where he could have received up to $1.5 million if he managed to stay in the big league. However, as the Brewers traded Choi, the Rays were able to bring him to the team by only paying $379,310, the adjusted salary from his contract.

The transfer worked out for Choi as well, as he was given more chances to play in big league games. Since his move to the Rays, Choi has hit eight home runs and found his spot as the team’s cleanup hitter.

The Rays, who are third in the American League East, will continue their season with a three-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays starting today.

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