Early arrival Choo working on new position
Team confident in offseason acquisition's transition to center field
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- As he prepares to play center field for the Reds this season, Shin-Soo Choo can remember the days when the position wasn't so new, but being a Major Leaguer was.
"When I played center field in Seattle, I was a rookie. I was so nervous," Choo said on Tuesday. "And now I'm very comfortable at the Major League level. It will be a lot different."
It was in 2005 when Choo debuted in the Majors with the Mariners. He's only played center field 10 times since -- the last being one game in '09 for the Indians. He's been primarily a right fielder for Cleveland since he was traded there in '06.
But center field is precisely the position the Reds acquired the 30-year-old Choo to play. There was a primary need for his skills as a leadoff hitter, which outweighed any concern about a lack of skill as a center fielder. No one on the Reds is expecting him to have the range of the speedy and defensively strong Drew Stubbs, who was sent to Cleveland to get Choo.
"It's kind of a tradeoff to some extent," Reds manager Dusty Baker said.
An early arrival to Spring Training ahead of Friday's full-squad report date, Choo is already trying to prepare for the switch.
"I have a new spot. It's not comfortable for me," Choo said. "Cincinnati gave up two good players for me and it was a tough decision. I'm here and will play the best I can and work hard in center field. I will do extra defense work. Dusty and the coaches will have to make the decision."
Cincinnati acquired Choo in a three-team, nine-player trade that also brought utility player Jason Donald and sent Stubbs to Cleveland and shortstop prospect Didi Gregorius to Arizona. Last season in 155 games with the Indians, Choo batted .283 with 16 home runs, 67 RBIs and 21 steals. While he struck out 150 times in 598 at-bats, he also had a .373 on-base percentage.
In 99 of those games, Choo led off and batted .310 with a .389 on-base percentage. That contrasts with Reds leadoff hitters, who batted a combined .208 with a .254 on-base percentage in 2012.
One Reds pitcher, Bronson Arroyo, was not concerned about any defensive liability from Choo.
"From what I remember about him playing, I think he's a very smart ballplayer," Arroyo said. "His angles are good. Obviously, he's not going to run down balls that Drew did, but the grinding at-bats, the near-.300 average and power he brings is going to outweigh it hands down."
No pitcher on the Reds is more pleased to have Choo as a teammate than Arroyo. Lifetime against Arroyo, Choo is 8-for-14 (.571) with four home runs and seven RBIs.
"When I walked in today, I told him 'you just made my ERA go down by at least half a point,'" Arroyo said with a laugh. "And I don't have to worry about him in Spring Training, geez. I can't wait to see this guy playing on our side grinding out at-bats."
And if there was lingering concern about how Choo adjusts, there is nearly seven weeks of camp to get ready for the regular season.
"You have to get your legs ready to play center field because you've got to like to run. I think Choo can do it," Baker said. "One thing is for sure -- if you can play center field here, you can play it anywhere, because it's big with a high sky and the sun. The parks are bigger than our park. It's has to be because of the light air. It's a real test to play center field here."
Choo lives in nearby Buckeye, Ariz., and is largely familiar with Goodyear because the Indians hold their camp right down the street. But he still has spent the past couple of days at the Reds complex shaking hands with new teammates. He's also been reading the media guide to put faces with the names.
A native of Pusan, South Korea, Choo only spends about three weeks a year at home. However, he and the sport of baseball remain popular in his country. He doesn't have a large media contingent that follows him exclusively like some Japanese players, but many reporters from Korea are expected to be at Reds camp for the first full-squad workout.
Choo declined Korea's invitation to play in the World Baseball Classic, in which he participated in 2009. There are simply too many changes happening in his baseball life to get distracted.
"The Korean team is really upset," Choo said. "If I wasn't traded, maybe it would have been a different story. I have a different position and new teammates. I want to spend more time with my teammates. A lot of people say 'you're already playing in the Major Leagues, don't worry about it.' I know since playing in the Minor Leagues how important it is to be on a team with your teammates. The communication is very, very important for me. I think it's more important than baseball. It was a tough decision to make to not play for the Korean team. But this is my new team."