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Mariners land prized Korean prospect

By Bob Sherwin
The Seattle Times

The Mariners, who didn't pick until the fourth round in the June draft because of free-agent signings from last offseason, may have made up for it, outbidding several clubs to sign Korean prospect Shin-Soo Choo.

The Mariners gave Choo, 18, a $1.335 million bonus after he led Korea to the gold medal in the World Junior Championship in Edmonton. A two-way star, he was named the tournament MVP.

The Mariners' toughest decision will be where to play Choo. They focused on the lefthander/outfielder for the past few months and waited until he was almost finished with summer competition to make him an offer.

"He's the best kid in Asia that we've seen," said Roger Jongewaard, Mariners vice president of scouting and player development. "He's a legitimate two-way guy."

Choo can hit 95 mph off the mound. He was named best pitcher the past two years at the President's Cup, Korea's top high school tournament, and he pitched in six of Korea's eight games in the World Junior Championship. He was 2-0 with one save, including the win in the gold-medal game, and struck out 33 batters in 21 innings, with just five walks.

As good as he is on the mound, Choo also can hit, and the Mariners say for now that they plan to use him as a position player. In a city championship this year, he hit .610 with five home runs. In the junior tournament, he was 5-for-19 with one RBI.

"We're going to start him off in center field," Jongewaard said.

Choo has power, above-average speed and obviously a strong arm. But if the club decides he doesn't project as a hitter, he'll be moved to the mound.

He was signed by Jim Colborn, Seattle's Pacific Rim scout. Choo attended the same high school as righthander Cha Sueng Baek, who was signed two years ago and is one of the system's best pitchers. Baek was 7-4, 4.46 through 101 innings at Class A Wisconsin this season.

The 5-foot-11, 178-pound Choo will head to instructional league this fall and join the Mariners in spring training next February. He should play in the Rookie-level Arizona League next summer.

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