JI-MAN CHOI, FIRST BASEMAN
|Born: May 19, 1991
Signed: Int’l Free Agent, 2009, Seattle Mariners
How Acquired: Trade (with Rays)
Country: South Korea
Agent: G-Man Sports Management
WTM’s PLAYER PROFILE
|Seattle signed Choi out of South Korea at age 19. He bounced around quite a bit in the minors, getting designated for assignment four times and taking nine years to get established in the majors. Signed as a catcher, Choi quickly shifted to first base. Other than a flirtation with left field during his brief time with the Angels, that’s where he’s stayed. Defensively, Statcast considered him a little above average in 2022, but a little below the rest of his career. UZR more or less agrees. At the plate, Choi has always shown good strike zone judgment, leading to good OBPs. His power has been marginal for his position. He has no business starting games against LHPs; for his career, he has an OPS of .589 against them, versus .810 against RHPs. His speed is below average and he has an extensive injury history. The Pirates acquired him in a trade from Tampa Bay, which appeared to be at least partly a salary dump on the Rays’ part.
Choi had a big season in the rookie-level Arizona League, hitting for a very high average with good gap power and plate discipline. He even did well stealing bases. Choi caught ten games, but otherwise played first.
Choi missed the season with an unknown injury.
The Mariners moved Choi up to low A, where he played about half the time at first and otherwise served as DH. His over-the-fence power improved and he continued showing good plate discipline.
Choi seemingly had a breakout season. He tore up high A (albeit at very high-offense High Desert in the high-offense California League), and continued to do well in AA while holding his own in a late stretch in AAA. Baseball America ranked him 25th in the Seattle system, apparently held back by the lack of more standard first base power. Seattle added Choi to their 40-man roster after the season.
Choi missed a chunk of the first half after he was suspended for 60 games for violation of the substance abuse policy. When he got to AAA, he hit pretty well except the power wasn’t there. BA ranked him 29th in the system.
After missing so much of 2014, Choi missed most of 2015 after he broke his leg in the first game of spring training. Right after that, the Mariners designated him for assignment and outrighted him to AAA. He returned in mid-August. Choi became a free agent after the season and signed a minor league deal with Baltimore, but three weeks later the Angels selected him in the Rule 5 draft.
Choi went 1-for-18 for the Angels and they designated him for assignment in mid-May. He cleared waivers and the Angels sent him to AAA. The Angels called him back up in July after he hit very well in AAA. Choi didn’t hit especially well after returning to the majors and the Angels designated him for assignment. He became a free agent and signed a minor league deal with the Yankees.
Choi spent most of the season in AAA with the Yankees, where he hit very well. He got just a brief callup in July, after which the Yankees dfa’d him. He became a free agent again and signed a minor league deal with the Brewers.
Milwaukee called Choi up at the beginning of the season. He mostly played in AAA for them, and in June they traded Choi to Tampa Bay. The Rays called Choi up in mid-July and he had a big second half for them.
Choi played first for the Rays, mainly in a platoon role. He was out briefly with ankle and foot injuries. For the season he hit for solid power with good on base skills.
In the pandemic season, Choi again was a platoon first baseman, although he briefly tried switch-hitting. He also missed short periods with shoulder and hamstring injuries. His hitting tailed off, especially the power.
Choi missed the first month and a half due to arthroscopic knee surgery, and also missed time with groin and hamstring injuries. He made about a quarter of his plate appearances against LHPs, which was more than in the past. It definitely didn’t help him; his OPS was .843 against RHPs and .526 against LHPs. His numbers in the end were about the same as the previous year.
Choi continued as a platoon first baseman. The Rays this time mostly kept him away from LHPs, but his hitting against RHPs dropped off anyway, with just a .730 OPS and limited power. He had a very good first half, batting 278/385/449, but he fell off a cliff in the second half, putting up a line of 164/272/293.
Choi should be a significant upgrade at first for the Pirates. It’s a very low bar; literally just a handful of teams in baseball history have gotten production from first base as poor as what the Pirates got in 2022. He does, however, present significant risk. His second half collapse in 2022 may have been a sign of things to come, which at Choi’s age (32 in May 2023) wouldn’t be surprising at all. There’s also the injury problem. In fact, it was announced just after the trade that he’s having elbow surgery, although he’s expected to be ready for spring training. Finally, Choi has to be platooned, which may or may not happen with the Pirates. Derek Shelton has shown an aversion at times to platooning veteran players, as he seems to operate more on some notion of seniority or tenure than on baseball considerations. Choi will be in his final arbitration year.
|Signing Bonus: N/A
MiLB Debut: 2010
MLB Debut: 4/5/2016
MiLB FA Eligible: N/A
MLB FA Eligible: 2024
Rule 5 Eligible: N/A
Added to 40-Man: 11/20/2013
Options Remaining: 2 (USED: 2018)
MLB Service Time: 5.076
|June 20, 2010: Signed by the Seattle Mariners as an international free agent.
November 20, 2013: Contract purchased by the Seattle Mariners.
March 5, 2015: Designated for assignment by the Seattle Mariners; outrighted to AAA on March 7.
November 6, 2015: Became a free agent.
November 21, 2015: Signed as a minor league free agent by the Baltimore Orioles.
December 10, 2015: Selected from the Baltimore Orioles in the Rule 5 draft by the Los Angeles Angels.
May 11, 2016: Designated for assigment by the Los Angeles Angels; outrighted to AAA on May 15.
July 9, 2016: Called up by the Los Angeles Angels.
December 23, 2016: Designated for assignment by the Los Angeles Angels; outrighted to AAA on January 5, 2017; refused outright assignment and became a free agent on January 11.
January 15, 2017: Signed as a minor league free agent by the New York Yankees.
July 4, 2017: Called up by the New York Yankees.
December 23, 2017: Designated for assignment by the New York Yankees; outrighted to AAA on July 23.
October 13, 2017: Became a free agent.
January 14, 2018: Signed as a minor league free agent by the Milwaukee Brewers.
March 28, 2018: Called up by the Milwaukee Brewers.
June 10, 2018: Traded by the Milwaukee Brewers to the Tampa Bay Rays for Brad Miller and cash.
November 10, 2022: Traded by the Tampa Bay Rays to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Jack Hartman.