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Prospect Retro: Hee Seop Choi

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Hee Seop Choi as a Cub

Prospect Retro: Hee Seop Choi

The Chicago Cubs signed Hee Seop Choi out of South Korea in 1999. In his pro debut, at age 20, he hit .321/.422/610 in 79 games for Class A Lansing, hitting 18 homers with 50 walks and 68 strikeouts in 290 at-bats. Due to his walk rate, as well as extremely rapid and successful adjustment to North American pitching, I gave him a Grade A- in the 2000 book. This was an aggressive rating, but I was very confident in it.

Choi split 2000 between Class A Daytona and Double-A West Tennessee, hitting the hell out of the ball at both stops. He posted a .309/.419/.623 (1.042 OPS) in 36 games after moving up to Double-A. He maintained a very high walk rate. He fanned more than once a game after his promotion, but it didn't hurt him much, if at all. I gave him a Grade A and wrote that I was "completely confident that he will be a star."

That was the sentence of death, apparently. Choi spent half of 2001 on the disabled list with a hand injury, and even when he played he wasn't the same, hitting just .229/.313/.417 in 77 games for Triple-A Iowa. He continued to draw walks, and even reduced his strikeout rate slightly, but the injury prevented him from turning on pitches effectively and reduced his bat speed. I dropped him to Grade B+ in the 2002 book, though still expecting him to be a star once his hand healed.

Choi returned to Iowa in 2002 and had a great year, hitting .287/.406/.513 with 26 homers and 95 walks. He continued to draw tons of walks while reducing his strikeouts, whiffing 119 times in 135 games, certainly acceptable considering his power production. He hit just .180 in a 24-game trial with the Cubs, but I retained full confidence in him and gave him a Grade A in the 2003 book.

Choi hit just .218/.350/.421 in 80 games for the Cubs in '03. Scouts started complaining that he couldn't hit inside pitching. The Cubs showed little faith in him (surprisingly little considering his minor league performance), then shipped him off to Florida. He hit pretty well for the Marlins in '04 (.270/.388/.495) but they lost faith as well, sending him to Los Angeles. He was pretty mediocre last season.

Where does he stand now? His walk rate has actually declined over the last year, perhaps as he's tried to be more aggressive and less passive (though it certainly hasn't helped his production). Obviously he has not lived up to my lofty expectations. Is this a guy with "old player" skills who peaked too early? Or has he been handled badly and just needs a change of scenery?

Comparable Players to Hee Seop Choi through age 26

Dick Gernert
Andre Thornton
Mike Epstein
Brian Hunter the Slugger
Jim Gentile
Sam Horn

Active comps include David Ortiz, Carlos Pena, Erubiel Durazo, and Travis Hafner. You can see from the comps that Choi could still go either way, having a fine career like Thornton, Ortiz, and Hafner, or fading quickly like Horn.