Shin-Soo Choo signed a pretty big contract this weekend, inking a deal with the Texas Rangers for seven years and $130 million dollars. Like most big free agent deals, the addition of Choo makes the Rangers better in the present, but it’s also likely that this is a bad contract by the end of the deal. Such is life on the free agent market.
Overpaying on the free agent market is a win-now strategy that doesn’t typically bode well for the long-term, but there are parts of Choo that could hold up over the course of this deal. After the general reaction to the signing, my next thought was this:
Of all of the skills to sign up for past a player’s prime… plate discipline is probably the best one.
Power fades with age. Speed certainly fades with age. Bat speed and the ability to hit for a high average fade with age. But plate discipline tends to remain steady as a player enters the decline phase of his career, and in some cases, actually improves with the more experienced, mature approach at the plate that comes with time.
Choo has always had strong plate discipline, even in the minors where he walked in 11.4 percent of his plate appearances. That plate discipline has gotten better in the majors, culminating in a 112-walk season in 2013. He may not draw 100-plus walks per season for the next seven years, but there’s a good bet that by 2020, as his diminished power and speed have turned him into an overpaid DH, Choo will still get on base at a decent clip. On Twitter, I later likened it to the way Bobby Abreu aged.
Then, of course, the prospect follower in me got thinking about what prospect best fit the profile of a guy like Choo, or Abreu for that matter, and in combing through my notes and stats, one name stood out.
First, what do we know about Choo? He’s a left-handed hitter with plus plate discipline and 15-25 home run power in any given year. He’s not a great pure hitter, but his hit tool grades out at a .280-.300 average. He’s a strong defensive right fielder who is a bit overmatched in center field but can handle it when called upon.
I’m describing Choo, but I could very well be describing Dodgers prospect Joc Pederson.
At 6-foot-1 (to Choo’s 5-foot-11), Pederson is bigger than Choo, and he’s from Palo Alto, Calif. rather than South Korea, but otherwise the similarities are pretty striking.
Pederson is a left-handed hitter who has played primarily center field in the minors but has seen some time on the corners, and many scouts believe he profiles better there. He has a strong enough arm to play right field (much like Choo’s) and has enough power to potentially hit 20-25 home runs per season in the majors. The biggest similarity, however, is in his plate discipline. Pederson has walked at a 12 percent rate thorough his first two-and-a-half seasons as a professional.
This by no means to suggest that Pederson will be a $130 million player. There is a ton that needs to happen developmentally for Pederson to become a 4-5 win player in the majors, something Choo has achieved three times. There are questions about Pederson’s hit tool and whether he will hit enough to play every day. There are questions about whether enough of his raw power will translate into game power for him to make it as a right fielder. Such is the life of a Double-A prospect.
But Pederson does appear to have the Shin-Soo Choo starter kit, complete with the ability to draw walks.
Pederson grades out as a potential first-division regular, which is what Choo has become and amazingly what goes for $130 million over seven years on the open market these days. Choo is not a superstar, but he is an upper-level player on a good team. Pederson has the ability to become exactly that and to do it in a very similar fashion.