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Choi Ji-man confident
Choi Ji-man confident Rays remain contenders despite offseason departures
Tampa Bay Rays' South Korean first baseman Choi Ji-man got his first taste of the World Series last year, with his club bowing out to the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games.

Although the Rays have since 메이저토토사이트  some key pieces, via trades and free agency, Choi believes his club still has what it takes to contend for a championship in 2021.

At a meeting with a small group of journalists at a Seoul hotel on Friday, Choi said the Rays have always thrived with the underdog label.

"We've been hearing every year about how we don't have enough star players, but we've always won a lot of games," Choi said of the Rays, who went 40-20 last year in a truncated season and won 96 games in 2019. "It's really up to the guys that are still with the team. We have a really tight group of guys and we all like one another. I expect us to make the postseason this year once again."

The Rays traded away their No. 1 starter Blake Snell and declined a US$15 million team option on another starter, Charlie Morton. But they've long had one of the deepest farms in the majors, and infielder Wander Franco is widely considered the best prospect in baseball.

"We have some talented young guys in the system," Choi noted. "The goal this year is to get that (World Series) ring."
Tampa Bay Rays' Ji-Man Choi hits an RBI-single off San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija in the fifth inning of a baseball game Saturday, April 6, 2019, in San Francisco. AP-Yonhap

While the famously budget-conscious Rays shed themselves of key players, their American League (AL) East rivals, the Toronto Blue Jays, have been a big spender this winter.

The Blue Jays signed one of the most coveted free agents, center fielder George Springer, to a six-year, $150 million contract and also added former AL MVP candidate Marcus Semien to a talented infield group of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio.

Their starting rotation is fronted by Ryu Hyun-jin, a Korean left-hander who attended the same high school as Choi in Incheon, just west of Seoul, four years apart.

The Rays have long had the Blue Jays' number, though, and Choi said he's confident the trend will hold up in 2021.

"I know Toronto added a lot of players and they have some good young players," Choi said. "But we always have confidence against Toronto."

Choi and Ryu have never faced each other, despite playing in the same division. Choi bats left-handed and has struggled against left-handed pitching.

"I'd love to go up and hit against him and give Korean fans something to remember," Choi said. "But even when I am not playing against Hyun-jin, it's always good to see him on the mound. It gives us Korean players a huge sense of pride whenever we have a chance to play each other."

Tampa Bay Rays designated hitter Ji-Man Choi celebrates with Tampa pitcher Sergio Romo and teammates as he hits a 2-run walk off home run to beat the Cleveland Indians at Tropicana Field, Sep 10, 2018. USA TODAY Sports-Yonhap

Choi claimed he is better against left-handers than he's being given credit for, and he just needs more opportunities to prove himself. He also said his poor numbers against left-handers should be taken with a grain of salt because the sample size is too small to be meaningful.

Choi only had 17 at-bats against southpaws in 2020, compared to 105 against right-handers. In 2019, it was 329 at-bats against righties and 81 against lefties.

Much to the surprise of many, Choi even dabbled at switch hitting last year and even homered from the right side of the plate. But Choi vowed on Friday that he won't experiment with switch hitting again because he has more confidence against left-handers from his natural side of the plate.

The fun-loving 29-year-old was fully in his element with that cheeky experiment, though. And he became even more of a cult hero during the Rays' World Series run, as he made a series of impressive splits to dig out low throws in the dirt at first base and looked no worse for it each time. Choi became an instant social media sensation.

Choi had credited his flexibility to his yoga and Pilates training, but while in Korea for the winter, Choi wasn't able to do much of that because of COVID-19 restrictions on indoor sports facilities.

Unfortunately for lovers of GIFs and memes, the days of Choi stretching out his legs may be over.

"I haven't done much of yoga this winter, and it may hurt quite a bit if I do those splits now," Choi said with a smile. "It'd be nice if my teammates threw a little better." (Yonhap)
Choi Ji-man confident
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Choi Ji-man confident

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