Waiting in the Wings: Michael Choice

Mar. 8, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Oakland Athletics center fielder Michael Choice (35) during a spring training game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Camelback Ranch. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Hilderbrand-US PRESSWIRE

The subject of today's Waiting in the Wings qualifies in the strictest sense of the concept (he is at level Double-A), but not so much in the spirit of the concept in that he's not likely to break into the majors within the next calendar year. "Well then why did you make Michael Choice the subject of this article" - the reader. Well, dear reader, because he was a participant in the 2012 Futures Game and it is my endeavor to make sure the general public knows most of the prospects on said list, so Choice seemed as a good a...choice as any in that regard. Shall we to the interesting parts?

For your pleasure, I have included a video from January 2012 provided by MLB.com, in which you can see Choice take some swings in BP:

Read on after the jump...

Choice was selected 10th overall in the 2010 draft by the Oakland Athletics and signed a $2 million deal quickly enough to accrue 102 at-bats at Short Season Vancouver. He acquitted himself well there in a small sample, posting a .284/.388/.627 slash line and showcasing his trademark power with 7 home runs and 19 extra-base hits. He got his first taste of full season ball in Hi-A Stockton. This was a bit of an aggressive move skipping Choice over Lo-A entirely, but he was entering his age-21 season and this kept on a nice pace to be big leagues without him purely beating up on younger competition. Choice's reputation was for patience and power and he delivered both in spades at Hi-A, smashing a California League leading 30 home runs, and posting a BB% of 11.3. He completed the Three True Outcomes troika by also delivering a K% of 24.7, with all of this leading to full season slash line of .285/.376/.542. While it's easy to get excited about numbers like the ones listed, especially when talking about a top 10 overall pick and someone who just skipped a level, it's important to note the context. Choice was playing in the Cal League, an environment notably skewed towards hitters, and especially those of Choice's skill set. 2012 and Double-A haven't been nearly as kind to Choice as his once above-average approach has deserted him to the tune an 8.1 BB%. Still solid, but a far cry from the 11.3% he posted in 2011. To his credit, he striking out about 1% less than he did last season but that isn't enough to offset the dramatic change in walk rate. More disturbing has been the utter lack of power from Choice in Midland, where he is only slugging a mere .380, and his .114 ISO is less than half of his 2011 .257 ISO. It's not as though Choice has completely bottomed out with his .265/.33/.380 slash line, but as someone known for his power, a .380 SLG and 21 extra-base hits (7 home runs) in 324 at-bats is more than a little disappointing. Adding to that disappointment is realizing that Choice isn't even getting unlucky this year, posting an identical .336 BABIP to his 2011 campaign. While it's been a down year, let's take a look at what put him on the map in the first place.

Choice was known for a few things among scouts; prodigious power, a discerning eye, and a lot of swing and miss. His raw power earns a 70 grade from most scouts according to Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein, with some going so far as rating an 80. Choice entered pro ball with a busy swing both in his upper and lower half, and while Oakland has done a good job quieting him down a bit, there's still a lot of movement. While he continues to strike out to much, he made progress cutting down his strikeouts as the season bore on in 2011, and has carried that over to this season despite moving up a level. He has struggled with breaking pitches in the past, and while he's improved his pitch recognition, it is still a work in progress. Choice's swing contains good leverage and he taps into his devastating power via incredible bat speed and hip rotation that allows him to drive the ball. At 22, Choice is either on level, or only slightly ahead, so his struggles this year have to be a bit concerning. Choice will likely always have swing and miss to his game, but before this season it was expected that he could achieve a batting average in the .270-.280 range in the majors. I don't expect 4 months to entirely alter that view, and he could easily restore his stock with a bounce back second half. On the other side of the ball, Oakland has left Choice in centerfield, where he has held his own. He doesn't have blinding speed, or anything close, but he can move well enough. He is a bit thick throughout his body, and there's a solid chance he will end up patrolling an outfield corner by the time he reaches the major leagues, but his power profiles as enough for a corner. His arm is suitable for the outfield but not a howitzer by any stretch.

Choice was expected to be playing for a September call up, or a 2013 roster spot with a strong Double-A campaign. That seems unlikely given the circumstances, though he could still earn a trip to Triple-A to begin the 2013 season with an impressive second half, but I wouldn't anticipate seeing him in the majors until after the all star break next season. I wouldn't put it past Choice to regain his form - if not necessarily his production - of a year ago, as he has done well to incorporate mechanical changes before, and make necessary adjustments. I avoided Choice in my fantasy leagues because of the risk associated with someone who whiffs as much as he does, but I might be looking to buy low, as I never thought he would post a line like this, even at his nadir. That means there's value to be had, as players with Choice's power potential aren't easily acquired. While he's suffered a power outage worse that would make PEPCO blush, I like that he's adapted before, and believe he can do so again. I recommend exploring the buy low opportunity that is presenting itself, and perhaps you can acquire a premier power player for cents on the dollar.

Source Material:
Baseball America (follow)
Kevin Goldstein/Baseball Prospectus (follow)
Keith Law/ESPN (follow)
Fangraphs (follow)

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