Ji-Man Choi says the injured elbow won’t be a problem

The Pittsburgh Pirates expect J-Man Choi to be a first baseman on Opening Day next season. So does Choi.

Choi took a call with reporters who cover the Buccaneers on a regular basis on Tuesday night. He answered the biggest question surrounding the Tampa Bay Rays acquisition last week.

The surgical procedure Choi is scheduled to undergo on his right elbow in his native South Korea is simple. A bone flap will be removed by arthroscopy.

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

“If you want me to go into details, nothing important,” Choi said through a translator. “It’s just surgery on a broken bone that I have to get out. Rehabilitation shouldn’t take that long either. I’m confident I’ll be available in time for spring training.”

Choi was on the injured list from April 27 to May 7 last season due to what the Rays cited as loose bodies in the elbow. He still played in 113 matches and scored 419 starts.

Despite playing painfully in the last five months of the season and in the postseason, Choi had a respectable year.

388 with 11 home runs for a 114 OPS+, which means he was 14% better offense than the senior major league average. Pirates first baseman combined for 61 OPS+ in 2022.

“All season I felt like my elbow was a bit swollen,” Choi said. “Obviously the broken bone was stuck between my elbows. It was hard to stretch my arm. I felt a little uncomfortable the entire season.”

Despite the injury affecting his elbow, Choi was still fit in the field making 2 saves defensively. This equaled the total of all first basemen players for the Pirates last season.

Choi has been at IL each of the past four seasons with the Rays. Not surprisingly, his goal for 2023 is to be healthy from start to finish.

“I will always prepare well for the season,” Choi said. “I’m going to do my own thing before spring training and everything. Pre-season, I think the biggest goal for me is to get better stats than last season, but also something bigger than that is not to have an injury the entire season and be healthy.”

The Buccaneers figure will have one of the youngest rosters in the major leagues next season. The 31-year-old Choi, who has been in the major leagues for seven seasons, is probably one of the more experienced players.

Choi has a reputation for being a good guy on the club and would welcome the opportunity to become a veteran captain in a team trying to emerge from the stress of 100 losing seasons in a row.

“I realize the Pirates are young right now, but when I first got to the Rays, it was kind of the same situation,” Choi said. “There were a lot of young people. But I learned how to approach them through the veterans who were there at the time.

“If I use my background and experience and bring it to the club with the Pirates, I feel like I shouldn’t have any problem. I try to bring everyone together and create good team synergy.”

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