Shin-Soo Choo has made 10 starts in center field over eight seasons in the majors. He’ll get a chance to win the job during his first spring training with the Cincinnati Reds.
If that doesn’t work out, the defending NL Central champions will have to do some rearranging.
The Reds traded incumbent center fielder Drew Stubbs to Cleveland for Choo in the offseason, looking for a stronger bat at the top of the lineup. They haven’t had a consistent leadoff hitter for years.
They’re also going to try him in center at the outset. If he struggles during spring training, manager Dusty Baker could move Jay Bruce to center and let Choo play right field.
The Korean was a center fielder when he broke into the major leagues with the Seattle Mariners in 2005, but he was traded to the Indians in 2006 and was eventually moved to a corner outfield spot. Now, he’s trying to re-learn the position.
“Choo will be a kind of trade-off,” Baker said. “If you can play center field here in Arizona, you can play it anywhere. I will try not to judge too harshly. First of all, the outfields are bigger out here. They have to be because of the thin air. There are no clouds. It is tough to judge talent here sometimes.”
After a few weeks, Baker will decide how to configure the outfield. Choo knows he’s got things to learn about playing center.
“I’ve talked to Jay Bruce, [Chris] Heisey and the coaches,” Choo said. “I’ve worked in center field, and I’ll do the best I can. After that, the middle of spring training or the end, Dusty will make a decision.”
There’s no question about his place in the batting order.
Baker has had to use several players, including second baseman Brandon Phillips, in the leadoff spot because he didn’t have anyone who had done it successfully over time. Choo hit 16 home runs last season, and the Reds hope his left-handed bat will lead to higher power numbers with the short right field at Great American Ball Park.
Choo reached base at a .373 pace last season. Cincinnati’s leadoff hitters were worst in the NL at getting on base. With Choo batting first, the other hitters can get into more suitable spots in the order.
“The one guy you’ll see take off is Brandon Phillips, who can move back into the second spot,” general manager Walt Jocketty said.