Tribe Expects Choo To Jump Start Offense
Each week through Spring Training the DTTWLN staff will profile and break down the players in camp for the Indians at Goodyear, Arizona and examine their potential roles for the season to come. This week, we continue our Goodyear coverage by breaking down the players who are most in need of a bounce back season if the Tribe is to make the playoffs.
By Craig Gifford
If the Indians are to seriously contend with the Detroit Tigers this year in the AL Central Division they will need a spike in offense. While some fans hoped the Indians would make a push for some serious offensive fire power in free agency, Tribe management really did little in that regard. The key position-player signing was defensive-minded first baseman Casey Kotchman. However, a surge in run-scoring could come from in-house in the form of renewed health and focus from Shin-Soo Choo.
After two-and-a-half seasons exhibiting five-tool abilities, Choo had a nightmare of a 2011 campaign. The player, who had been a .300 hitter ever since his call to the majors, suffered through his worst season, by far. Choo batted a career-low .259 with eight home runs and 36 RBI. Injuries and off-field issues limited his production and games played to just 85.
Choo began 2011 in a major slump, batting under .200 the first half of April. This after a .322 showing in 19 spring training games. Fans and the organization, alike, were sure the slump was simply a slump and Choo would bounce back to his form of the previous three years. That seemed to be the case as Choo picked it up over the last couple weeks of April to push his batting average up to .250. However, any hope of that seemed to disappear on May 4, when the Cleveland right fielder was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. That arrest seemed to hang over him to the point that he continued his down season through 2011’s second month.
In June, still batting under .250 for the year, Choo’s season went from bad to worse. In a game against San Francisco on June 24, he was hit by a pitch, fracturing his left thumb. He wasn’t heard from again until mid-August. However, upon his return, Choo looked like the player from 2009 and 2010, who averaged 21 bombs, 88 RBI and batted .300. In 12 August games, last year, Choo blast three long balls, and hit at a .348 clip.
That minor sampling was about it for Choo. He only played one September game as back issues forced him out much of the season’s final month. He officially went on the disabled list, ending his year, on September 15.
The Indians and Choo are hoping the star-player’s 2011 is far back in the rear-view mirror and he will come out blazing in 2012. Choo is healthy and his off-field problems are nearly a year in the past. He should have a clear mind as the new season starts. There is no reason Choo, at 29-years-old, can’t get back to the hitter he was from 2008-2010. As any good player does, Choo improved each of his first three years of regular playing time.
In those three seasons, Choo’s numbers when from 14 to 20 to 22 homers, 64 to 86 to 90 RBI and his average was .300 or better all three years. It was right at .300 in 2009 and 2010. Such a sample size is a strong indicator that Choo’s 2011 was a minor hiccup more than anything. Choo should be able to bounce back to his middle-of-the-order form and the Indians sorely need that.
With Grady Sizemore already lost for at least two months to injury, the Indians need to keep the rest of their core players healthy. If they can get a return to form from Choo, to go with continued improvements from young hitters like Asdrubal Cabrera, Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana, the offense will be vastly improved in the middle of the lineup.
As the projected No. 3 hitter, Choo also brings speed to the middle of the order. He swiped 21 bases in 2009 and 22 more in 2010. Last year, even with the time missed, he still recorded 12 steals. He’s a threat to hit himself to second or further and threat to get there with his legs after a single or walk. That’s huge for RBI guys like Santana, Kipnis and Travis Hafner batting after him.
The return of the old Choo will also help the defense a great deal. Choo has an arm in the outfield like few others. He has made a habit of gunning down base runners from right field. His speed also allows him to chase down would-be doubles in the gap and turn them into long outs. He’s a pitcher’s best friend in that regard. If Sizemore gets back to health by mid season, an outfield of Michael Brantley, Sizemore and Choo will be hard to hit anything past, unless it is well over the outfield walls.
In short, a strong year from Choo will go a long way toward keeping the Indians in the AL Central race and making this a fun summer for Cleveland Indians fans.
Photo: Getty Images
Be sure to vote for Did The Tribe Win Last Night in Cleveland Magazine’s Blog Bracket Challenge this week. Voting is open until 5 pm on Friday.