Former top pick Choice settling in at camp
Promising outfield prospect showing progression, improvements
PHOENIX -- Michael Choice has settled down in more ways than one since the A's made him their first-round pick three years ago.
Oakland's top outfield prospect, still just 23 years old, was married this past October in Maui to longtime girlfriend Jade, with whom he has a son, Blair.
Nearing his 17th month of life, Blair has already shown curiosity in the game that encompasses so much of his father's life. He picked up a bat for the first time just the other day, and he's also been posing as a lefty when he throws, which makes Choice smile.
When asked if he had anything to do with that, Choice laughs but assures the answer is no, saying, "I let him be a free soul."
Choice and his family have made a home together in Arlington, Texas, though for the next month of Spring Training, they're sharing a space with A's players -- and part-time baby sitters -- Michael Taylor and Bruce Billings.
"[Blair's] a little scared of Michael," Choice said of the 6-foot-5 Taylor, "but then he realizes Mike is like a gentle giant so he starts giving him high-fives and having fun with him."
Choice is having fun, too, these days, in part because of the changes to his game that have accompanied the ones unfolding in his personal life.
After an offseason spent making adjustments to his swing, Choice is reaping benefits of that work early in camp. Through just three games, he has four RBIs and five hits in seven at-bats, one of them a two-run home run he collected in Monday's contest against the Indians.
"Last year he wouldn't have been able to do that, hit the inside pitch like he did," said Keith Lieppman, A's director of player development. "He would've probably been jammed. He learned how to pull his hands through and he hits it out for a homer. Those are all the kinds of things he's been working at, and it happened in game time, so great, great progress."
It was just seven months ago Lieppman watched Choice's third professional season come to an end far too early.
Coming off a 30-homer year at Class-A Stockton in 2011, Choice endured a slow start to the 2012 campaign at Double-A Midland, posting a meager .693 OPS before the All-Star break. The outfielder turned his season around after the break, hitting four home runs in a span of 23 games, only to see a fluke injury interrupt his progression when an errant pitch broke his left hand.
"I was a little upset," Choice said, "because I had finally figured things out and I felt good in the box."
But by October he was back in the Instructional League, back under Lieppman's watch and back to swinging the bat again.
"When he originally signed, there were several parts of his swing that had flaws," Lieppman said. "What he looks like when he signed and what he's looked like in the last three days, it's remarkable the adjustments he's made. I give him a lot of credit for recognizing what he needed to do."
It was a clean-up process, really.
Choice had always employed complicated swing mechanics, having showcased a leg kick to get his swing going, as well as a number of other moving parts up top, since as long as he could remember. Now, he sports a more relaxed look, allowing his hands to get going sooner.
"He really does have a quick bat, which allows him to wait on balls," manager Bob Melvin said. "He can hit everything. He's already tracking the breaking ball really well for it being so early in camp. Usually that comes later."
When you're trying to work your way up the ladder to the big leagues, though, you don't want to wait until later to do what you can do now.
"It's all about coming in every day and trying to get better and making an impression," said Choice, who will likely start the season at Triple-A Sacramento. "The past couple of Spring Trainings I came in working on stuff, trying to piece things together. This year, I'm in a good place, and I feel all that's left to really do is perform."
So far, so good.
"Everything he's done, you see the effort he's put into his game and what he did during the offseason to improve himself," Lieppman said. "He's certainly close with a little more experience. He needs to face better pitching for a while and a lot more breaking balls. Then, a guy like that should be ready. He certainly has put himself in a position to have us recognize that he's close."