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Excellent Choice: A's draft college slugger

Excellent Choice: A's draft college slugger

OAKLAND -- Michael Choice was never much of a Major League prospect out of high school.

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In fact, his name never came up in the Draft following his senior year at Timberview High in Arlington, Texas. And his name wasn't even taken very seriously by any college coaches.

Thus, Choice found himself just 20 minutes away from the home in which he grew up, playing at one of the select number of Division I schools offering him a chance. It was there, at the University of Texas at Arlington, the outfielder cultivated into a solid power hitter with defensive prowess.

Several big league teams, including the A's, took notice of the transformation. And on Monday, with the 10th overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft, Oakland acted on it by claiming Choice in the first round.

"I'm excited," Choice said soon after being selected. "This is definitely one of the happiest times I've ever had in my life. I'm eager to get out there to start playing."

The son of a former collegiate catcher, the 20-year-old Choice stands at an even 6-feet tall and weighs in near 215 pounds -- numbers that A's scouting director Eric Kubota say disguise the fact "he's a very strong man" with "average Major League speed, on our scale."

"He's got tremendous strength in his wrists," Kubota said. "We're very excited. He's the guy we had targeted early in the year. He's got a college bat that comes with upside. Tremendous power potential."

Choice, a junior All-American, owns the all-time home run record at Arlington, where he averaged a long ball every 17.8 at-bats. In 60 games for the Mavericks this year, he hit .383 to go along with a .568 on-base percentage and .704 slugging mark. He struck out just 54 times while managing 76 walks -- several of which Kubota admittedly said were a result of a rather weak lineup around him.

"He's by far the best player on his team -- gets pitched around a lot, doesn't see a lot of pitches to hit," Kubota said. "He's still selective enough to not swing at pitches in the zone."

Choice's large dose of power nicely complements his impressive abilities in center field, where he hopes to remain as his professional career begins.

"If he can stay in center and have the power, that would be great for us. We certainly think he's athletic enough to possibly stay there," Kubota said. "We're certainly going to give him every opportunity. At the very worst, we think he's going to be a very good defensive outfielder at the corner, whether it's in left or right. We have reports that say [his arm] is anywhere from average to plus. There are a lot of guys in our room that would say it's a plus."

Kubota and Co. initially witnessed Choice's talent while the youngster was playing with Team USA last summer, when the A's decided to add him to a list of players to watch during spring. Area scout Armann Brown, according to Kubota, played the most significant role in acquainting the organization with Choice's skills.

"We had heard in the last month that there were a lot of teams in the top nine who were considering him," said Kubota, who is in his ninth season as scouting director. "Most of the mock drafts leading up to today really had him going before we picked him. I would say he was one of the guys we targeted early in the year and one of the guys we hoped to choose out of that group."

There was much uncertainty following the Nationals' No. 1 pick of highly touted prospect Bryce Harper, and Kubota admitted the club was still in discussions when the Draft began, including talk about an anonymous high school player "under strong consideration."

However, with the selection of Choice, the A's continued a widely known organizational trend of grabbing college players in the first round -- an approach that has aided its need of getting draftees to help at the big league level as quickly as possible.

That same notion has Choice very much excited about his future in the Majors, where he hopes to be two years from now, if not sooner. Thus, he believes signing a deal with the help of adviser and former big leaguer Jeff Frye will take place sooner rather than later, and well before the Aug. 16 signing deal.

"I don't think it will take a long time at all," Choice said of hammering out a contract. "The main goal in my mind is to get there as soon as possible."

"We feel good about getting it done and getting him out there," Kubota said. "Our hope is to get him out playing as soon as possible."

Choice, who grew up idolizing the Yankees' Derek Jeter and familiarizing himself with the American League West at Rangers games, is widely considered the class of this year's college outfield crop. Such recognition, he said, is a tribute to the way in which he expanded both his own knowledge of the game, as well as his skills, out of high school.

"I've definitely matured physically and mentally," Choice said. "I've gained a lot of strength as a player and feel like I've grown as a baseball player. I feel like that helped me a lot vs. being a player drafted right out of high school."

Kubota mentioned it's not uncommon for a player of such caliber as Choice to go undrafted out of high school. Plenty of Major Leaguers, including Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria, went unnoticed before college.

"There are some guys," Kubota said, "that just mature physically and develop in college. He's one of those guys."

The A's 10th selection marked their highest pick since 1999, when the club chose lefty Barry Zito with the ninth pick. Choice's place in the Draft was met with questions regarding his ability to compete outside of Arlington's Southland Conference.

"It's certainly not the SEC," Kubota said, "and we certainly took that into account. But we did see him play against a national team last summer and scouted him against teams in the Big 12, so while his conference isn't necessarily the strongest as far as competition goes, we did see him in a lot of situations where he played good competition.

"It's the power and power potential that intrigues us."

Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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