After playing just 45 games in the major leagues last year with the Cleveland Indians, Korean outfielder Shin-Soo Choo looked like a lock to share right field for the Tribe again this year. But when Trot Nixon was signed in late January, Choo's ticket was clearly written for Triple-A. Bad news for him but a big boost for the Buffalo Bisons.
"He's going to be one of the best players in this league," Buffalo manager Torey Lovullo said Wednesday after Choo went 3 for 3 with two walks in the Herd's 13-7 loss to the Ottawa Lynx in chilly Dunn Tire Park. "There's no doubt about it. You see it by the way he steps up there, by the way he carries himself and executes a great game plan. For me, he's a big-leaguer."
Choo, a left-handed hitter, is 4 for 9 and has already drawn four walks in Buffalo's three games. He hit .295 for Cleveland in the second half of 2006 after being acquired from Seattle for Ben Broussard but was strictly a platoon player.
Therein lies the rub. While the Indians want Choo to get more work defensively in left field, they're most concerned with his ability to hit lefties. Choo was a Pacific Coast League all-star last year at Tacoma, batting .323 in 94 games. But the left-right disparity was clear as he hit .361 against righties and only .185 against lefties.
"I need more work against left-handed pitchers and more work in left field," said Choo, who speaks decent English and does not use a translator, "During spring training, the GM [Mark Shapiro] and [manager] Eric Wedge said they were going to send me out to Triple-A and I agreed. They told me, 'There's a lot of good players there, get more work and you can come back to the big leagues.' "
It's hard to gauge Choo's progress against lefties thus far as he's only had one at-bat. But his sweet swing has already been on display and he possesses a strong arm. He said he spent much of spring training working with Tribe hitting coach Derek Shelton on recognizing pitchers' arm angles to get a better view of incoming deliveries and also got advice on the subject from Cleveland stars Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez.
"I'm just going to work here. This is my team now, right here," Choo said. "I want to go to the playoffs here, try to win a championship here. I'm not going to think about things later that might happen, just what's happening here."
About 500 fans (there were 5,502 tickets sold) saw Choo double in the first and seventh, single in the eighth and walk in the second and fourth. But even Choo was not immune from some shoddy play on a day when the Bisons made four more errors -- pushing their total to 10 in the three games thus far.
Choo pulled an RBI double to the gap in right-center in the first to drive in Ben Francisco with the game's first run but rounded the bag with his head down and made a feet-first slide into third -- while teammate Luis Rivas was standing on the bag. Oops. Choo was easily tagged out.
"I thought Rivas was going to score but that's my fault," Choo said. "I was too aggressive."
"He apologized and ran with his head down," Lovullo said. "He has responsibilities as a baserunner and has to make adjustments on his own but we'll get that ironed out."
Ironing out the Buffalo defense won't be as easy. Two throwing errors, two fielding miscues and a passed ball contributed to four unearned runs.
"It's tough to watch. I'm not going to lie to you," Lovullo said. "I can't put my finger on what's going on but we're going to figure it out."
Danny Leon's squeeze bunt in the fifth snapped a 5-5 tie and put Ottawa ahead for good as the Bisons were denied their first 3-0 start since 2003. The teams conclude the homestand today at 1:05 (Radio 1230 AM) with free agent signee Jeff Harris making his Buffalo pitching debut.