Continuing our draft coverage, let's take a close look at one of the few high-upside college bats in the 2010 MLB draft, Michael Choice.
Michael Choice is the star center fielder for the University of Texas at Arlington Mavericks. In this piece, we’ll look at Choice from both a statistical and mechanical perspective, trying to get an idea of his overall draft prospects.
For the sake of comparison, take a look at the two players below, see which player you like more:
|Player||Year||Total Score||Year Score||wOBA*||Power||BB%||K%||Speed||PA|
Player A made much better contact, but that’s about it. Player B has better power, patience and was more effective on the base paths. Really, these two guys don’t look to have much in common. Why did I choose these two guys to compare? Because they are BOTH Michael Choice. Player A is Choice’s 2009 season, and B is the 2010 version of Choice. How is this the same guy?
|Player||Year||Total Score||Year Score||wOBA*||Power||BB%||K%||Speed||PA|
While there are many variables that go into my RENDON rankings (seen above for Choice) the basic idea is pretty simple. Ideally, you want a player to establish a quality baseline of production as a sophomore (greater than 10% BB, less than 17% K, and some power) then demonstrate growth as a junior. It’s fair to say that Choice has grown as a junior.
Just as we recently profiled the NCAA leader in strikeouts (Chris Sale of Florida Gulf Coast), Choice has earned the distinction of leading all Division I hitters in walks, with 76. Michael Choice’s walk rate of approximately 27% is not only the highest this spring, it is the single highest walk rate in my entire database – which includes every top 50 pick since 2001. Michael Choice has drawn walks at a historic clip in 2010, and his season isn't even over yet.
While important, walks alone do not a great hitter make. The massive explosion in walk rate has come at the expense of contact. In 2010 Choice has crossed the dreaded 17% strikeout threshold, a number beyond which college hitters generally struggle to make contact versus professional pitching.
Like all statistics, these numbers can only tell us what happened, not why. Part of the reason for Choice's increased strikeouts could be mechanical (we’ll get into that shortly) another part could be explained by the increase in walks. Choice has seen a ton of pitches this year. As the one big power threat on his UTA team, Choice has been pitched around by opposing pitchers and managers – Choice has 16 home runs, his next closest teammate has six. When asked what he biggest weakness as a hitter is, Choice responed, “Every now and then I get a little too impatient at the plate and kind of go out of the zone a little bit. Or vice a versa, I can be too patient and strike out because I’m taking too many pitches.” That’s right, the man leading the universe in walks, has a problem with patience.
The good news is that Choice will likely be pitched around less often in professional ball where fewer managers are likely to take the ‘don’t throw him anything in the zone because him walking to first is better than jogging to home’ mantra that seems prevalent in the Southland Conference.
The RENDON system is set up to use comparable players, but Choice’s unique college career leaves him on somewhat of an island. A walk rate of 16.5% would be pretty fantastic for just about any hitter, Choice increased his by that much this season.
Brad Snyder jumped from 7.9% to 19.2% on his way to being drafted 18th overall in the 2003 draft as a small school (Ball State) outfielder with big power, iffy contact ability but solid athleticism – pretty much the same book on Choice.
Jared Mitchell’s walk rate skyrocketed from 7.6% as a sophomore to 20.0% as a junior. Mitchell maintained high strikeout rates (24.7% both years) but was an elite athlete with a ton of potential thanks to splitting his athletic attention between baseball and football for years and was selected 23rd overall in last June’s draft.
Mitchell has had to deal with injury problems since signing, pretty much leaving Snyder as the only statistically comparable player for Choice. That’s not a good thing for Choice. Snyder was left off of the Indians roster and now toils away in the Cubs organization, having yet to reach the major leagues. Snyder’s walk rate in the pros has bounced between 6.1% and 11.9% (below-average to slightly above) while his inability to make consistent contact has remained (K rate has never been below 25% for a full season).
However, Michael Choice is not Brad Snyder. Choice has demonstrated the ability to make good contact as an underclassman. So what are we to believe? When the stats yield more questions than answers, it’s generally a good idea to call an expert. Here’s what Steve Carter, our resident swing expert, has on Choice’s unique swing mechanics.
First thing to notice about Choice’s swing in the video below (from UTA) is that it’s very “loud”. He’s got the whole-wang-dang-doodle of actions going on at the plate. All this movement helps him create good bat speed without having any drastic forward movements, but could be the cause for concerns from some teams about his mechanics, and whether or not they will lead to high strikeout totals in the pro ball.
Choice starts in a balanced position before striding forward onto his front toe and slightly pausing while resetting his new balance point. He then internally rotates his front knee to cock his hips while simultaneously – and naturally – loading his hands back to get to his launch position. The internal rotation of his front knee/cocking action helps load his rear hip and naturally gives his lower body a smooth running start into the ball.
As part of Choice’s swing launch he has an extra, natural rear movement with his hands for some extra giddy-up to launch forward with. This extra hand resistance lets his hips get ahead of his hands – thanks to the lower body running start – achieving a very smooth and easy separation of his upper and lower halves. This separation helps him produce easy bat speed. The hand resistance also helps him keep his hands back on off-speed pitches.
The benefit of Choice’s foot-down-early-and-coil type swing is that he has limited his head movement and is able to generate good bat speed without much forward movement, which could cause timing problems. Choice’s lack of head movement lets him see the ball deep in the zone, as evidenced by his outstanding walk rate.
The downside of Choice’s actions is that if he doesn’t get his front foot down on time, he will be very susceptible to off-speed pitches and could even be late on fastballs; getting to fastballs is how he’s going to make his living (more on this below). Choice has very good wrist action in his swing, but doesn’t look to have the ability to tilt his body and manipulate his barrel to cover down and away against good sliders and change ups.
Choice has a lower body and core dominant swing and doesn’t try to do much with his upper body – which is great – but those who get their foot down earlier than the average hitter do need their upper body to do more in order to adjust to cover all areas of the strike zone – a la a younger David Wright. Choice also can get caught in between on occasion because of his lower body uncoiling too quickly on off-speed pitches.
Because of that possible hole down and away, Choice is going to have to get to the fastball on a regular basis to hit for an acceptable/high average. Calling him a “mistake hitter” doesn’t do justice to the type of player that Choice is, but he’s going to have to make his money on mistakes and fastballs.
Choice’s swing would be rather unique at the Major League level, but one hitter with a similar style jumped to mind for me, albeit his actions are far, far more toned down. That hitter is Jason Bay:
Of course, you can see the differences in “loud” actions vs. quiet actions, but there are plenty of similarities. Smooth and natural load, foot down early (though Bay isn’t quite as early as Choice), lower body running start, very good wrist action, core and legs doing plenty of work, etc…
The main differences are Bay’s lack of front side coil and a better overall control. Choice isn't falling all over himself, but he isn't exactly the posterboy for a smooth and controlled lower half either. However, you have to love the intent in which he drives his lower body -- at least you know he's not leaving anything on the table.
The other similarities between Bay and Choice refer to the types of pitches they handle best. Bay is also a fastball and mistake crusher, but he has holes down and away and has always posted above-average strike out totals. Choice can smash fastballs and mistake pitches, and may have similar holes to Bay, but it is important to note that I’m not saying he is a lock to post the 27% K rate that Bay has posted in his career.
Choice’s strength and athleticism is evident in his swing and performance. He wouldn’t be able to pull off those actions and be successful if he wasn’t athletic, and his raw power is seen in his power numbers. He’s not just another metal bat hitter; he knows how to work his legs and core. His actions may be loud, but there are not herky-jerky and he generally repeats them well. Consistency and experience are the two biggest things needed to for Choice to be successful, as he has the tools to be an above-average player at the Major League level.
Choice stands 6-foot-1 and weighs a solid 215 pounds. He’s got a natural broad shouldered build that is sometimes referred to as “thick” or “stocky”. Those words can give the connotation that Choice is a poor athlete or out of shape, neither is true. He’s built more like an NFL running back, extremely strong. His body type is similar to a young Marlon Byrd or Vernon Wells.
Given his body type – atypical for a center fielder – and his lack of elite speed, most people forecast Choice moving to a corner outfield spot in the pros. Whichever team selects Choice ought to let him play himself out of center. While he’s not a burner, Choice does have solid-average to slightly above-average speed. Speed is an imperfect proxy for range but players with similar physical abilities have held down center before. When asked where he could like to play defensively Choice said that he would, “like to stay in center, but it would be up to me and whatever organization I end up with.”
Choice does have above-average arm strength and would be playable in right field.
Overall, I feel that Choice would be slightly below-average defensively in center but likely an asset at a corner spot.
Michael Choice is one of the few risk/reward college guys in this draft class. He could turn into a 30-35+ home run monster who draws 100 walks or he could struggle against pitchers who can locate good breaking balls.
Choice does have outstanding raw power, has proven can take a walk and should have some defensive value. Players with Choice’s combination of athletic ability and secondary skill are rare and tend to have very high ceilings. Given the concerns about his contact ability, I’d have a hard time taking him in the top 10. But the cost benefit analysis becomes much more palatable towards the end of the first round where the opportunity cost is lower.