Would the Real Shin-Soo Choo Please Stand Up?

Shin-Soo Choo. Is there a more polarizing figure on the Cleveland Indians right now?

The right fielder’s 2012 season has not gotten off to the start that fans and the South Korean native had anticipated. In 25 games, the left handed hitter has compiled a .239/.369/.337 line to go along with one home run and 12 RBIs. Coming off a poor and injury-riddled 2011 campaign, most had Choo penciled in as an excellent rebound candidate. But as the numbers suggest, this has not been the case.

Granted, this is a small sample size. It must also be noted that Choo missed six games because of a hamstring injury. Still, injuries are a part of the game. And for the last two seasons, injuries have been a big part of Choo’s game.

The 2011 season was not kind to Choo. He played only 85 games because of a variety of injuries while compiling a .259/.344/.390 line to go along with eight home runs and 36 RBIs. He also was arrested in early May on DUI charges; an incident that Choo openly admitted was embarrassing and contributed to his struggles at the plate.

Most everyone seemed to give Choo a pass following the 2011 season. After all, this was a player who had recorded two straight seasons of a .300 average to go along with at least 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases. It seemed far more probable that the 2011 campaign was an outlier and not the start of a trend.

But what if this is the start of the trend? From 2008 to 2010, Choo hit .302/.397/.500 along with a .897 OPS and averaged 19 home runs and 81 RBIs each season. Choo’s numbers over the last two seasons pale in comparison.

It has been a sad turn of events for Choo, who, during his three-year tear, was one of the lone bright spots for the Tribe. Choo’s stardom came during a period of transition that saw the team trade away former faces of the franchise while another face of the franchise (Grady Sizemore) fell on hard times and endured injury after injury. Choo seemed destined to be the team’s new face; out with Grady’s Ladies and in with the Choo Crew.

For those three years, Choo did give the fans plenty of reason to cheer. At times, he was a dominant force at the plate, and he always dazzled with his amazing arm. Yet, those seasons seem like distant memories as Choo has done nothing but disappoint since the start of the 2011 season.

Choo’s downfall might not be the worst thing in the world because in all likelihood, the Indians never had any chance at resigning him. After Choo brought on Scott Boras as his agent in February 2010, the writing seemed to be on the wall for the Indians.

But while Choo is almost certain to leave via free agency after the 2013 season, the Indians are still no closer to solving their current problem. Choo is the team’s starting right fielder, and he must rebound if the Indians are to reach the postseason for the first time since 2007.

Plus, let us consider the alternatives. Oh wait, there are no alternatives. As Indians Prospect Insider Editor Tony Lastoria and many IPI writers have outlined in the past, the Indians’ farm system is severely lacking in its upper levels in regard to outfield depth. There are no immediate answers and no potential upgrades.

Can Choo solve his problem and somehow recover his previous form? Time is certainly on his side. The 2012 season is only 31 games old, and there is plenty of time for Choo to find his stroke once again.

At the same time, however, there have not really been any encouraging signs. When fans talk about disappointing Indians, most of their blame is typically reserved for Ubaldo Jimenez, but the fact of the matter is that Shin-Soo Choo has been an incredibly underwhelming player since the start of the 2011 season.

Take one look at the Indians starting outfield: A former MLB star desperately clinging to his last shot of glory in left, an athletic but perhaps overexposed Major League fourth outfielder in center and then the enigmatic Choo in right. There is not much to be overly enthused with.

But of the three, there is one that still stands out. We all know the potential that Choo once had and hopefully still has. It is now up to him to tap back into that potential and show why he was once voted the MLB’s most underrated player by his peers.

Can Choo recover his past bat magic? Who knows, but he will have to if the team has any hopes of capturing an AL Central title. For three years, what you saw is what you got with Choo; a player who was great at nothing but very good at everything. Hopefully that is the real Choo and not the borderline Major League fringe player that we have seen since 2011.

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