It's unfair to compare anyone to Yoenis Cespedes. The Oakland Athletics breakout star from Cuba has such a freakish blend of power and speed that people stop and drop whatever they are doing when he is at the plate.
Much like a Cespedes plate appearance, a quote from veteran outfielder Coco Crisp stopped me in my tracks in the A's clubhouse. Crisp was talking about prospect Michael Choice.
"I had seen him his first spring here, and the first time I saw him he was impressive," Crisp said. "He kind of reminds me of Cespedes, because he is a big guy, obviously he has power, and he has speed."
Cespedes' skill set draws comparisons to Hall of Famer Willie Mays. It's a pretty big compliment to say that Choice is similar to Cespedes. Could he possibly possess similar skills? He certainly is well-built, and right-handed like Cespedes. He is also sneaky fast, plays center field, and has looked very good at the plate this spring.
Choice is hitting .394 (13 for 33) with two doubles, one triple, a home run and nine RBI in 13 games this spring. He hit another home run on Friday, but the game was cancelled in the fourth inning due to rain, so his big-fly didn't count.
A's manager Bob Melvin has seen a lot of Cespedes, and is getting a steady dose of Choice. He sees it, too.
"There's some similarities," Melvin said. "Bat speed, Yoenis is kind of one of a kind, but Michael Choice is pretty impressive. That's something that he's always had, it's just a matter of identifying pitches, staying back, using the whole field."
"He's making a lot of progress. He came into camp really trying to make an impression. He's getting a lot of at-bats and really making an impression," Melvin added.
Choice will begin the 2013 season with the Sacramento River Cats. The impression he's making will go a long way as he is just one step from the Major Leagues. It's safe to say Choice has been turning heads for a while. He was selected by the A's with the 10th overall pick in the first round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of Texas at Arlington.
In his first full professional season he led the California League with 30 homers for the Stockton Ports. He was having a respectable 2012 with the Midland RockHounds when an errant pitch fractured his hand and forced him to miss the rest of the season. At the time of the injury, Choice was on a 16-game hitting streak. He got off to a slow start in his second professional season, but hit four homers in the 18 games he played after the Texas League All-Star Break.
"I'm picking up where I left off in Midland," Choice said. "Trying to stay nice and short, keep my upper body relaxed and just throw my hands to the baseball."
Choice wanted to prove he hadn't gotten stagnant when his hand injury prevented him from finishing the season. Since he couldn't hit, he went to instructs to rehab his hand and spent time working on his defense with roving instructor Todd Steverson. The biggest thing he wanted to work on was how to react better to line drives.
"Right now I am playing with my feet," Choice said. "I kind of turn to the pull side of the hitter and it allows me to predetermine which way I am going to go and if it is hit over the other shoulder you just turn and go."
The alternative is being square to the plate and having to make a decision on which way to turn before taking off toward the ball. He feels that split-second decision slows him down.
Offensively and defensively, the 23-year-old outfielder now looks like the total package.
"It's a huge relief not having to worry about trying to find everything all over again," Choice said. "I've spent previous springs worrying about mechanics and what I'm going to do with my spring, whereas now I am strictly just worried about what the pitcher has and what I am going to do mentally rather than physically."
While Crisp speaks highly of Choice, the feeling is mutual. The young outfielder says he watches Crisp closer than anyone else on the team. He says his main goal this spring is to pick up things from guys like Crisp, Cespedes, Josh Reddick, Chris Young, and Seth Smith.
"I watch Coco a lot because he is one of the best out there," Choice said. "He makes it look so easy, I just try to pick his brain to see what he thinks about certain things out there."
The Oakland A's currently have a very deep and talented outfield, so Choice will have to wait his turn to get into the mix. He can try to force the team's hand by getting off to a hot start in Triple-A, but it's hard to see him cracking the big league roster with the current crop of experienced outfielders around.
"I think with him it's going to just be getting accustomed to the speed of the game up here," Crisp said. "He's a good player, I think he's going to be a solid player in the big leagues for a long time when he gets his opportunity."
Choice represents one of the many reasons A's fans should feel optimistic entering the 2013 season. The Major League roster of the reigning 2012 American League West Champions is loaded with depth, and guys like Choice are developing and waiting in the wings for their chance.