An intriguing candidate for an Angels reserve job has caught the eye of Manager Mike Scioscia, and it has nothing to do with the player's catchy name: Ji-Man Choi.
Scioscia said Saturday that Choi "has a nice right-handed swing."
Told that the 24-year-old South Korean first baseman and outfielder, who was selected in the Rule 5 draft in December, didn't start switch-hitting until last year, Scioscia wasn't surprised.
"Eddie Murray didn't start switch-hitting until late in his minor league career, and he's in the Hall of Fame," Scioscia said. "And that was when he switched to left-handed, which he hit most of the time. There are guys who picked it up a little later and have been really proficient. [Choi] has really good hand-eye coordination. He has a chance."
Choi hit left-handed in his first five seasons in the Seattle Mariners organization. He has a career .302 batting average and a .404 on-base percentage. The last two seasons, he was limited to 97 games because of a broken fibula and a 50-game suspension for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance.
"I was talking with my batting coach and said, 'Why don't I try it to increase my value in the big leagues?' " Choi, speaking through a an interpreter, said referring to Howard Johnson, Seattle's triple-A hitting coach last season. "I did, and it worked so well, I kept doing it."
Choi had six hits in 14 at-bats from the right side last season. If he makes the team, Choi could fill a role that Efren Navarro, a smooth-fielding first baseman who also played left field, filled for much of the last two seasons.
Scioscia said that a meeting with Major League Baseball officials Friday helped him gain clarity on the new slide rule, which states that slides on potential double plays "will require runners to make a bona fide attempt to reach and remain on the base," and that a runner will be prohibited "from changing his pathway to the base or utilizing a 'roll block' for the purpose of initiating contact with the fielder."
The rule aims to eliminate the kind of takeout slide that Dodgers infielder Chase Utley used to roll into airborne New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada in October, a play that broke Tejada's leg.
But like the collision rule for home plate, which was instituted two years ago, and the expansion of instant replay, which caused some confusion about rules governing the transfer of balls from glove to hand, there will probably be some growing pains associated with the slide rule, Scioscia said.
"I think it's a work in progress," Scioscia said. "I think the guidelines right now are a good starting point. But just like when that first home-plate collision rule was reviewed, we're going to have to sort through some things and get some history and data on what we're doing and how we're going to call it and what they're going to be looking for in New York."
The new rule will also make the so-called "neighborhood play," in which umpires allowed middle infielders to turn double plays without having their foot on the bag in order to avoid collisions, reviewable by replay. Scioscia believes that is a fair trade between runner and fielder.
"I never liked the neighborhood play," he said. "That evaporating is a good thing. What that play did is take a guy who has incredible ability to turn a double play and gave an an advantage to a guy who wasn't as good."