The most pressing need entering this past offseason for the reigning National League Division champs was a reliable leadoff hitter. Cincinnati's production out of the leadoff slot in 2012 was absolutely horrendous. The Reds ranked dead last in all of baseball in average (.208), on-base percentage (.254), RBI (38), stolen bases (10), and OPS (.581). This led to a decrease in RBI opportunities for middle-of-the-order guys like Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Ryan Ludwick, but the greatest negative effect was the club's inability to muster offense at times.
On Dec. 11, 2012, GM Walt Jocketty decided enough was enough when he pulled the trigger on a 3-team trade that brought OF Shin-Soo Choo, along with UTL Jason Donald and cash, to the Reds. Cincinnati parted ways with OF Drew Stubbs and SS prospect Didi Gregorius in exchange.
Choo, 30, is entering his ninth campaign in the major leagues. He was originally signed by the Seattle Mariners as an amateur free agent in 2000 before making his debut with the M's in 2005. He played sparingly with Seattle until they dealt him to the Cleveland Indians in July 2006. It wasn't until the 2008 season that Choo finally broke through and showed what he could do.
Although never named an All-Star, Choo has certainly posted All-Star caliber numbers in his career. The Korean native owns a lifetime batting average of .289 and an on-base percentage of .381. Last season, he batted .283/.373/.441 with 16 homers, 67 RBI, and 21 stolen bases. Choo possesses a rare blend of power and speed that teams hope for out of their leadoff man.
One area of concern for Choo this year is whether or not he will be able to handle the defensive duties in center field. The Reds are banking on the fact that he can even though he has played just 10 games there in his career. Scouts, executives, and writers seem to be skeptical that he can play center field effectively, but it won't be because he doesn't have the physical tools. He isn't quick as Stubbs was, and isn't quick as Billy Hamilton will be, but he is quick enough to roam the tiny dimensions of Great American Ball Park. Plus, we already know he owns a pretty good arm, as evidenced by his league-leading 14 outfield assists in 2010. However, Reds fans should be patient with him given the learning curve that goes along with learning a new position.
Perhaps one of the factors that not many people are considering is that Choo will be hitting the free agent market after the season. His agent, Scott Boras, is notorious for cashing in on huge contracts on the basis that his clients perform well in the season leading up to their payday. Choo is no different than any other player looking to score big at the negotiation table. Expect him to play extremely hard this year in hopes of getting his first taste of the postseason, and maybe more importantly, a big multi-year contract.
Here are some projections for the left-hander:
Okay, so there isn't a whole lot of variation between these projections in regards to Choo's percentage numbers (i.e. average, on-base, slugging). However, there is a wide gap in regards to runs scored, RBI, and doubles. Let me go ahead and go on record in saying that I believe Choo is destined for a huge season. I think the combination of playing in a more hitter-friendly park, in a better offensive lineup, and on the brink of a huge payday will lead to career-high production from Choo, who at age 30, also happens to be in what many believe is the peak of his career. The Reds will go as Choo goes in 2013, and if he goes well, so will Dusty Baker's Reds -- maybe even all the way to a world title.
Here are the links to past player previews: