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Hee-Seop Choi 최희섭
(Big Choi,)

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[edit] Biographical Information

Hee-Seop Choi was the first position player from South Korea to play in the Major Leagues.

[edit] Amateur career

In the 1997 World Junior Championship, Choi hit .450/?/.900 for South Korea. He hit .346/.469/.808 in the 1998 Baseball World Cup with 3 homers and 7 RBI in 8 games as the DH for the Silver Medalists. He tied for fifth in the tournament with three stolen bases.

[edit] 1999-2002: Minor league career

Scouted by Leon Lee, he was signed by the Chicago Cubs in 1999. He hit .321/.422/.610 for the Lansing Lugnuts with 18 HR, 71 runs and 70 RBI in 79 games. Baseball America rated him the #10 prospect in the Midwest League. In 2000, Choi batted .296/.369/.533 for the Daytona Cubs (15 HR in 96 games) and .303/.419/.623 for the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx (10 HR in 36 games). He led Cubs farmhands with 95 RBI. Baseball America rated him the best defensive first baseman in the Florida State League and the #7 prospect overall in the FSL. He helped the Diamond Jaxx claim the Southern League title. Baseball America rated him the #3 Cubs prospect.

Left hand and wrist injuries sidelined Choi frequently in 2001. He only hit .229/.313/.417 for the Iowa Cubs. Baseball America still rated him as the #14 prospect in the Pacific Coast League, between Denny Stark and Joaquin Benoit. They also kept him as the #3 prospect on the Cubs list.

Choi was named the Cubs' Minor League Player of the Year in 2002 by hitting .287/.365/.484. He led the club's minor leaguers in walks (95) and runs (94). He drove in 97 and hit 26 home runs. In the 2002 Futures Game, he was 0 for 2 as the starting first baseman for the World team. He was 4th in the affiliated minor leagues in walks, leading the Pacific Coast League in that category. He also led league first basemen in putouts (1,074). Lyle Overbay made the All-Star team ahead of him. He was 5th in the league in runs and OBP. Baseball America rated him as the #4 prospect among first basemen and #8 in the PCL between Colby Lewis and Bobby Hill and ahead of both Overbay and Travis Hafner.

He only batted .180/.281/.320 in a September call-up for the 2002 Cubs. In his major league debut, he was a defensive substitute for Fred McGriff. In his first at-bat, he struck out against Valerio de los Santos.

Choi hit .345/?/.714 for the 2002 Mesa Solar Sox - he would have set the new Arizona Fall League slugging mark, breaking Hank Blalock's record, but Ken Harvey fared even better. Choi was 5th in the league in slugging. Baseball America rated him as the #7 prospect in the league, right behind Morneau and two spots ahead of Harvey.

[edit] 2003: Rookie season

Choi was the NL Rookie of the Month in April when he connected for five homers, but it would represent over half of his season's total. He was sidelined for a spell when he collided with Kerry Wood on June 7 while going after a Jason Giambi pop-up. Choi struggled after that and was briefly returned to AAA. He batted .258/.351/.621 with 6 homers in 18 games for Iowa in 2003. Overall, he hit .218/.350/.421 while Eric Karros got most of the playing time at first base. Choi struck out 71 times in 202 AB but did show a great batting eye and good power (17 2B, 8 HR).

[edit] Marlins

On November 25, 2003 he was traded with Mike Nannini to the Florida Marlins for Derrek Lee. At the time, the statistically-oriented community raved that the trade was a great one for Florida, though in retrospect the opposite was clearly true.

That winter, Choi hit .271 with 4 HR for the Navegantes del Magallanes.

On April 13, 2004, Choi was part of the first match-up of a Korean batter and pitcher in MLB history when he faced Sun-Woo Kim. Choi batted .270/.388/.495 in a stellar 95 games for the 2004 Marlins. Nonetheless, he was traded on July 30, 2004 to the Los Angeles Dodgers, along with Brad Penny and Bill Murphy for Paul Lo Duca, Juan Encarnacion and Guillermo Mota.

[edit] 2004-2005: Dodgers

Choi only hit .161/.289/.242 in 31 games for the 2004 Dodgers.

Choi had a productive campaign for the 2005 Dodgers, hitting .253/.336/.453 and tying for second on the team (with Olmedo Saenz, who he split first base duties with) in home runs (15). His 110 OPS+ was off a bit from his 116 mark of a year earlier. In the Home Run Derby that year, Choi represented South Korea and went deep five times, tying Andruw Jones for fifth among the 8 contestants and missing the cut for the second run. Other highlights included the first 3-homer game by a player of Asian descent in MLB history, on June 12. He homered six times in a 3-day stretch from June 10-12, the 12th player in MLB history to have done so. Surprisingly, his major league career would be over after that year. He had hit .240/.349/.437 in 363 major league games for a 107 OPS+.

[edit] 2006: Pawtucket and World Baseball Classic

Choi hit .182/.217/.364 for the South Korean team in the 2006 World Baseball Classic, but his one home run was a big one, a 3-run pinch-hit shot off of Dan Wheeler that helped South Korea beat the USA.

The Dodgers placed Choi on waivers during the end of Spring Training of 2006, and he was claimed by the Red Sox on March 24. Choi battled a hamstring injury, a knee strain and a lower back strain. He struggled with the AAA Pawtucket Red Sox, batting just .207/.347/.361 with 8 HR's and 27 RBI. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays signed Choi to a minor league contract on November 29.

[edit] 2007- : KBO

Choi returned to South Korea in 2007, signed by the last-place KIA Tigers on May 10 in an attempt to rejuvenate their season. The deal was for 800 million won in advance payments, a 350 million won annual salary, and 400 million won in options. The initial plan was for 1B Sung-ho Jang to move to the outfield but this left the status of Larry Sutton questionable.

Choi listed his goals as helping KIA to a Korean Series title and breaking Seung-yeop Lee's KBO home run record of 56, both of which seemed highly optimistic. He made his KBO debut on May 19 against the Doosan Bears, going 0 for 5 with a strikeout. Choi hit .337/.386/.528 in 52 games in his first KBO campaign. Had he qualified, he would have tied Jun-hyuk Yang for second in average, one point behind leader Hyun-gon Lee.

Choi battled numerous injuries in 2008. He had headaches throughout spring training, missed about two months due to back problems and was sidelined later by left shoulder pain. He had two minor league stints and only hit .229/.295/.346 in 55 games when healthy.

In 2009, Choi had a big rebound year, hitting .308/.435/.589 to help KIA win the regular season pennant as well as the 2009 Korean Series. He hit 33 home runs, drew 103 walks, scored 98 times and drove in 100. He tied Keun-woo Jeong for the league lead in runs, was second to teammate Sang-hyeon Kim in home runs, was second to Roberto Petagine in walks (one off the pace), tied Petagine and Dae-ho Lee for third in RBI, tied Sung-heon Hong for 5th in OBP and tied Hyun-soo Kim for third in slugging. Sang-hyeon Kim beat him out for KBO MVP honors but he was named the league's best first baseman.

Sources: DongA.com article on Choi's signing with KIA, Worldbaseballclassic.com, 2007 Devil Rays Media Guide, 1998-2007 Baseball Almanacs, Korean wikipedia entry, IBAF site, Article on Choi's 2008 problems

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