Texas Rangers' Offense Lives and Dies with Shin-Soo Choo

Michael Mandelkern@@metsonmymindContributor IIIApril 9, 2014

Shin-Soo Choo at the plate.
Shin-Soo Choo at the plate.Elise Amendola

The Texas Rangers are 4-4 to start the 2014 season, but they would be below .500 without their on-base juggernaut Shin-Soo Choo.

The outfielder signed a seven-year, $130 million contract this past offseason. He is currently the highest paid Korean player in Major League Baseball and has played more games than any other Korean in MLB history. 

Choo has been as good as advertised in the early going, if not better. In his first eight games, Choo is posting a .345/.444/.448 slash line with five walks, six runs and 10 hits. 

Although not an established home run hitter and no All-Star appearances on his resume, he is sturdy and reliable. His career-high .423 on-base percentage last season ranked fourth in baseball.

Currently, the Rangers rank fifth in batting average, ninth in runs and 10th in OBP in the majors, and he is a big reason why.

He has been making solid contact and smart decisions. If the Rangers need a sacrifice fly, he delivers.

Choo drew a bases-loaded, walk-off walk against the Philadelphia Phillies on April 2. His ability to work pitch counts and provide the hitters behind him with information does not show up in the box score, but his approach is crucial to the Rangers' success.

With three-time All-Star Adrian Beltre sidelined by a quad injury, it is especially important that Choo keeps creating scoring opportunities for Texas. Slugger Prince Fielder is off to a slow start, but once he catches fire Choo will be stepping on home plate with even more frequency.

The leadoff hitter is a spark in the lineup, and he has been more than ready for his team to drive him in.

One thing Choo has not done yet is steal any bases, but he has 96 stolen bases over his last five seasons.

He is a career .289/.390/.465 hitter who has mostly stayed healthy. He played 150 or more games in three of his last five seasons and hit 20 or more home runs three times, including 21 in 2013 with the Cincinnati Reds.

Koreans have many reasons to be proud of Choo, who was born and raised in South Korea and played high school baseball there. The Korean population is growing in the Dallas-Fort Worth market. 

He won a gold medal in baseball representing South Korea in the 2010 Asian Games. But his rise was not always full of prosperity. 

Choo spent about four years in the minor leagues before he made his MLB debut with the Seattle Mariners in 2005. He was not given significant playing time in 2005 and 2006 and then underwent Tommy John surgery in 2007.

He also struggled to adjust to American culture. Choo arrived in the United States in 2000 after being signed by the Mariners as an international free agent. His family stayed behind in Busan, South Korea, when he moved to a land foreign and unfriendly to him. In 2009 Korean documentary Choo Shin-soo Finally Hits Major League Baseball, Choo discussed his problems transitioning to life in the United States (as translated by Jeeho Yoo of APG Sports):

I could count from one to 10 in English and say words like, ‘Hi, thank you and bye.’ That was pretty much it. I knew the alphabet, but not the lower-case letters.

I had no one to talk to, and no one who could listen to my problems and concerns. After games, I’d just go back to my hotel room, watch TV, surf the Internet and sleep. That was it. I couldn’t go out because I didn’t know anything. I cried a lot lying in bed, and my hair fell out because of stress.

But now he is the pride of Korea and living the American dream.

Expecting him to sustain this level of 2014 success is not realistic, but he has displayed his capabilities. Choo is living up to his contract and putting the Rangers in a position to win.

Follow me on Twitter @MMandelkern_BR


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