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Ji-Man Choi Says Injured Elbow Won’t Be Issue



The Pittsburgh Pirates expect Ji-Man Choi to be their opening-day first baseman next season. So does Choi.

Choi had a teleconference call with reporters who cover the Pirates on a regular basis Tuesday night. He answered the biggest question surrounding his acquisition from the Tampa Bay Rays last week.

The surgical procedure Choi is scheduled to undergo on his right elbow in his native South Korea is minor. He will have a bone chip removed via an arthroscopy.

Come March 30 when the Pirates meet the Reds in Cincinnati, Choi says he will be ready to go.

“If you want me to get into the details, it’s nothing major,” Choi said through a translator. “It’s just surgery for a chipped bone that I have to have taken out. The rehab shouldn’t take that long either. I’m confident that I’ll be available in time for spring training.”

Choi was on the injured list from April 27-May 7 last season for what the Rays listed as loose bodies in the elbow. He still wound up playing in 113 games and logging 419 plate appearances.

Despite playing hurt for the final five months of the season and into the postseason, Choi had a respectable year.

He hit .233/.341/.388 with 11 home runs for a 114 OPS+, meaning he was 14% percent better offensively than the average major league first baseman. Pirates first baseman combined for a 61 OPS+ in 2022.

“Throughout the season I felt that my elbow was a bit swollen,” Choi said. “Obviously the chipped bone was stuck in between my elbow. It was hard to extend my arms. Just felt a little uncomfortable throughout the whole season.”

Despite the injury affecting his throwing elbow, Choi was still decent in the field as he had minus-2 defensive runs saved. That was equal to the total of all Pirates’ first basemen last season.

Choi was on the IL each of the past four seasons with the Rays. Not surprisingly, his goal for 2023 is good health from start to finish.

“I’m always going to prepare well for the season,” Choi said. “I’m going to do my own work before spring training and everything. In preparation for the season, I think the biggest goal of mine is to have statistics better than last season, but also something bigger than that is not having an injury throughout the whole season and being healthy.”

The Pirates figure to have one of the youngest rosters in the major leagues next season. The 31-year-old Choi, who has been in the big leagues for seven seasons, will likely be one of the more experienced players.

Choi has the reputation of being a good clubhouse guy and welcomes the opportunity to be a veteran leader on a team trying to dig out from under the weight of consecutive 100-loss seasons.

“I’m aware the Pirates are young right now, but when I first got to the Rays, it was kind of a similar situation,” Choi said. “There were a lot of young guys. But I’ve learned how to approach them through the veterans who were there at that time.

“If I use my background and experience and bring it to the clubhouse with the Pirates, I feel like I should have no problem. I’m trying to bring everyone together and create a good synergy for the team.”

John Perrotto is a columnist for Pittsburgh Baseball Now and has covered the Pittsburgh Pirates and MLB since 1988.

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