Michael Choice, as of right now, is still in the minor leagues, and as such retains a place on this list. In just a few days, he may graduate to the majors and take his bat to aid a Rangers team strangely stricken by injuries, but for now, the 23-year-old stays here.
The Rangers traded for Choice (and bat-first second baseman Chris Bostick) this winter, acquiring the pair from the Oakland A’s for platoon-friendly centerfielder Craig Gentry and backup starter Josh Lindblom. The A’s had previously drafted Choice 10th overall in 2010 out of the University of Texas at Arlington, making this trade a homecoming of sorts for the McKinney, TX native. At the time of his selection, analysts regarded Choice as a return to the “Moneyball” style of draft selection, a collegiate hitter with historically high on-base rates and power potential.
Choice moved through the minor league ranks steadily, spending no more than a year at each level and and the entirety of 2013 with the A’s triple-A team. In 2011, Choice turned heads by hitting 30 homers with high-A Stockton, but that number was tempered by his K% of 24.7 percent. Though that number appears high, it was actually a reduction in strikeout percentage from his short-season numbers in 2010, when he struck out 35.5 percent of the time.
The jump from high-A to double-A caused Choice to have a difficult start to 2012, and the power that had impressed in Stockton evaporated. He batted .263/.350/.351 across April and May, leading to his low point in June, when he only got on base at a .278 clip. Choice hit four home runs in just 17 games in July, averaging .422/.479/.688, and despite his earlier struggles dropped his K% down to 21.9 percent for the whole season. His numbers most likely would have completely rebounded across July and August, if he hadn’t suffered a broken hand after being hit by a pitch in the July 21 game. The Athletics promoted Choice to triple-A in 2013, where he showed major improvements in all areas, hitting .302/.390/.445 with improved walk and strikeout percentages (11.5 and 19.2 percent, respectively). He played nine games with the major league club last season, logging five hits and a walk in 19 plate appearances.
As a hitter, Choice has a balanced stance and swing, and shows patience at the plate, willing to let pitches go by him if they’re not in the zone. He also has the ability to foul pitches off and extend at-bats, before turning on a mistake pitch and hitting it out of the park. Choice can and will hit to all fields, and in film from Sacramento's series against Nashville in 2013 showed both his power and his patience, turning a seven-pitch at-bat into an easy left-field home run. He doesn’t just demonstrate his hitting ability on fastballs, as his bat speed means that he can stay back on breaking pitches and let them travel further into the zone before squaring up on them.
Defensively, Choice is a serviceable centerfielder, having played there most of his career, but will most likely find his major-league place in left or right field. Some project him as a “slightly above-average” left fielder, and he can play right field decently, but his value this season will most likely come from his ability to slot into any empty outfield position.
Choice may not have the absolute ceiling of some of the younger players on this list, but his multiple talents, along with his proximity to the majors, makes him an easy choice to a higher spot. If he spends any time in triple-A this season, it will purely be due to the depth of the Rangers outfield.
Kate Morrison is a recent Baylor graduate currently working as a freelance writer. She likes minor league ballparks, music and the nickname 'Roogie.' That last one will be explained in due time. You can follow her on Twitter at @unlikelyfanatic.