When Cleveland acquired outfielder Michael Choice from the Texas Rangers in a cash exchange on August 21st, the outfield picture for the future was unclear.
With Michael Brantley expected to miss time at the beginning of the 2016 season and two other players being considered as prospective starters with minimal consistent experience in the outfield at the Major League level, the Indians have some choices to make during the spring, and Choice is one of the internal options.
The outfield will be a crowded space in Goodyear as the club takes a look at several options for their Major League roster. With Brantley expected to start the season on the disabled list while he recovers from offseason surgery on his non-throwing shoulder, the Indians return Abraham Almonte in center and Lonnie Chisenhall in right field. The club signed Rajai Davis to a one-year, $5.25 million contract and he will likely see time in left and center field, but he could pick up some playing time in the right field corner as well. The club claimed Joey Butler off of waivers from Tampa Bay and picked up Collin Cowgill from the Los Angeles Angels for cash.
Those men would be the perceived leading candidates for spots on the 25-man roster to open the season, barring injury or slumps in the spring.
The next wave of candidates include Choice and Michael Martinez, the journeyman utility guy who re-signed with the club in the offseason. The Indians have also brought in Shane Robinson after his season with the Minnesota Twins and Robbie Grossman, who had spent parts of the last three seasons in the Houston outfield.
Choice, who turned 26 in November, is a former tenth overall pick in the first round of the 2010 amateur draft by the Oakland Athletics. He made his Major League debut with the club in 2013 after hitting .302 in Triple-A, going 5-for-18 (.278) in nine games as a September call-up that season.
He was traded after the season by the A’s with a minor league utility man, Chris Bostick, to the Rangers in exchange for outfielder Craig Gentry and pitcher Josh Lindblom. The move brought the Texas native back home – he was born in Fort Worth, went to high school in Arlington, and attended the University of Texas at Arlington for college ball.
He appeared in 86 games for the Rangers in 2014, hitting just .182 with nine homers and 36 RBI, while also playing in 43 games at Triple-A Round Rock while hitting .267 with seven homers and 31 RBI. He had just one MLB plate appearance in 2015, a strikeout, while playing in 110 games for Round Rock (.244, 12 homers, 60 RBI) before he was designated for assignment and moved to Columbus.
In 14 games for the Clippers, he hit .244 with a homer and seven RBI. He turned it up a notch in the International League playoffs, however, going 9-for-14 (.643) with three homers in five games while being named the IL playoffs MVP in helping Columbus clinch their tenth Governors’ Cup championship.
“The last two years have been a whirlwind on the field and off the field,” said Choice in a story in The Columbus Dispatch on September 20th. “Just getting this fresh start means more than these guys in here have an idea about. That they welcomed me and made me feel like I was a part of this team the whole year is awesome.”
The Indians designated him for assignment to make room on their 40-man roster on November 25th and brought him back on a minor league deal a few days later.
The right-handed Choice is a center fielder by trade in the minors, appearing in nearly twice as many innings there as in left field. In contrast, he has played 43 games in the Majors in left field, 22 in right, and just nine in center. He has been said to have the arm for right field, but just one of his five career MLB outfield assists has come from the spot.
He has shown extra base power during his minor league career, but the numbers in the power category have failed to match the 30 homers he hit in 2011 while in High-A.
Once a top prospect and a first round pick just six years ago, Choice is on the outside of the picture looking in at the outfield mix on the Indians roster. While it would seem to be a tough obstacle to surpass the names in front of him in the spring camp before, he has shown in the past he can contribute on the diamond. He can help his chances of potentially returning to the Majors at some point throughout the season by putting up a strong showing this spring.
Photo: Louis DeLuca/Dallas Morning News