Choice turning heads in first spring camp

Choice turning heads in first spring camp

Choice turning heads in first spring camp
PHOENIX -- Coco Crisp figured he would come out ahead, as he usually does.

But when taking part in the 20-yard dash in the early days of camp this year, the speedy A's outfielder was outdone by a broad 6-foot teammate by sixth-tenths of a second.

"I was like, 'Hey, who is this kid?'" Crisp recalled.

It's the same kid who could take Crisp's place in Oakland's center field as soon as next year -- the same kid who's also known as Michael Choice, the A's 2010 first-round Draft pick who is undertaking his first big league camp.

"I don't know if I can give him 100-percent credit," Crisp said, smiling. "I didn't try my best because I thought I was gonna breeze through it. I wanted to run it again."

"I could tell he was mad when he found out my time was faster," Choice said with a laugh.

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Choice is turning all sorts of heads this spring after posting a .964 OPS with seven home runs and 26 RBIs in his first 30 professional games, 27 of which came at short-season Class A Vancouver. Just as impressive as his blazing speed, which only fully developed in his freshman year of college, are his power, work ethic and first-class character.

"Nothing fazes him," manager Bob Geren said. "I've never seen anyone that played at basically one of the lowest levels come up here and be so comfortable. You'd never know that he had never been here before. He gets good jumps on balls in the outfield, he's been aggressive at the plate, he's swung at strikes for the most part. He looks pretty advanced based on his experience level. What you see and then knowing what he's done, experience-wise, they don't match. He's way ahead of that."

In six Cactus League contests, Choice is 5-for-14 with an RBI. He is constantly drawing stares in the batting cage, but isn't quite aware of the attention surrounding his every move, as he goes about his business in a careful and quiet manner while at the same time keeping a close eye on the seasoned vets surrounding his locker.

"I didn't really know what to expect coming in, but now that I've been here for a while, I'm learning and picking up things from other guys," Choice said. "Guys here can be so relaxed and have a good time and still get better. They don't let the stresses of the game get to them."

The 21-year-old Choice, who A's director of player personnel Billy Owens believes boasts power reminiscent of Greg Vaughn, is carrying the maturity level of a player who's gone through the motions more than once.

"He seems to have a good head on his shoulders," Crisp said. "From the baseball standpoint, you'd think he's been here for a couple years. Inside the clubhouse, he's very quiet and humble."

"I never really get too high or too low, so I try to keep it that way," Choice said. "We've been playing this game for so long that we know failing is part of the game. As long as you know that, you'll be pretty successful."

The son of a former collegiate catcher, Choice will likely start the 2011 season at the Class A ranks, though he hasn't forgotten about the proclamation he made when he was drafted out of the University of Texas at Arlington last June.

"It might have been a little premature to say I'll be in the big leagues in two years, but it's still a goal," he said. "It's a good goal to have because that's extremely fast. If I can get there in that time, then great. If I can't, I'll keep working as hard as I can."

Those efforts have been aided by offseason mentor and Angels outfielder Torii Hunter, as well as Rickey Henderson, who tutored Choice in instructional league and has since become one of the prospect's biggest fans. Choice's speed, which he believes progressed from his days playing basketball, isn't the only thing that has the Hall of Famer talking.

"He's got all the tools, and he's just here at camp to develop and make all those things come out," Henderson said. "I'm very impressed with him, especially the power that comes out of him. He's a real nice player, goes about his business the right way. He's very smart, he observes a lot, and that's a good sign."

Crisp's chats with Choice have been brief, but he's witnessed enough from the new kid on the block to be a believer.

"He puts a lot into his swing," Crisp said, "but it doesn't look that way. It's hard but effortless. He's just a natural baseball player.

"From what I've seen, he definitely has the ability to be something special. I'm not sure how that's going to translate."

Jane Lee is a reporter for Read her blog, Major Lee-ague, and follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.