As we noted in our 2016 Organizational Farm System rankings report a few days ago, the Los Angeles Angels have a very thin farm system, clearly the weakest in the game at present. The only rookie to make the Angels 25-man roster for Opening Day was first baseman Ji-Man Choi, a Rule 5 pick developed in the Mariners system.
First, from the 2016 Baseball Prospect Book:
Ji-Man Choi, 1B, Los Angeles Angels
Bats: L Throws: R HT: 6-1 WT: 230 DOB: May 19, 1991
|2013: Grade C; 2014: Grade B-; 2015: Grade C
A broken leg cost Ji-Man Choi almost all of the 2015 season. He signed with the Orioles as a free agent in November, then was selected by the Angels in the Rule 5 draft. Choi has good pure hitting skills with impressive plate discipline and legitimate bat speed, but the only time he has ever hit for substantial power was in 2013. He got busted for using PEDs that year and after serving a suspension he’s had trouble breaking a .400 SLG. That seems unlikely to be a coincidence. Grade C.
The story goes like this: in 2013, Mariners prospect Ji-Man Choi hit .295/.394/.535 including a .485 SLG after being promoted to Double-A. In 2014, he was suspended for PED use in April, testing positive for use of the banned substance methandienone. He denied having knowingly taken the PED.
When he came off suspension he hit .283/.383/.392 in Triple-A, then a similar .290/.388/.406 in 2015, his campaign limited to only 23 games by a broken leg. As noted, he signed with the Orioles as a free agent last fall then was nabbed in Rule 5 by the Angels.
This spring he hit just .209/.321/.328 in 67 at-bats, though he did contribute a pair of homers and draw 11 walks. The Angels have kept him on the roster.
Choi's best attribute has always been his strike zone judgment. He works counts very well, has a real feel for hitting and a smooth swing. PED or no, he has good bat speed and looks like he should hit for some power. He's not a terrible first baseman but his lack of running speed (he's gained 30 pounds over the last four years) makes him a dubious proposition as an outfielder. With his defensive limitations he really needs to hit for power, but much of that power in-game evaporated after the PED suspension.
That's obviously a red flag, but even so, his polished hitting approach and sharp batting eye stand out if you see him play. The ball can jump off his bat and he's a consistent threat for near .400-OBPs in Triple-A. Choi is still just 24 and perhaps he can find a way to tap his power without artificial help.
Twenty years ago, a guy like this could make a good living as a pinch-hitter and platoon bat for a National League team, but with the eras of giant pitching staffs it is harder to find a job like that. We'll have to see if he can stick with the Angels.