Overview - This may be a tough year for Korea. A number of injuries to their local stars and injuries or reluctance of major league teams to have their Korean players participate in the WBC has impacted the quality of talent on the roster. One player Jung-Ho Kang was removed from the roster because of multiple DUI offenses, one involving a hit and run.
Korea has always played second fiddle to Japan for baseball supremacy in Asia. In the Asian baseball championships Japan has dominated, allowing Korea with an occasional gold medal to keep their interest in the competition. The last Asian championship in 2015 Korea won the gold medal. They have also had some success in other international events that have put the spot light on them as a team to watch.
The biggest event that catapulted them to prominence was probably the 2008 Olympics. This was two years after the 2006 WBC when they surprised the world by going undefeated in the first two pools before losing in the semi final round to Japan 6-0. It left a bitter taste in Korea’s mouth after they had defeated Japan twice to have to settle for third place after only one loss in the tournament.
In what was thought to be the last Olympics for baseball Korea again ran through their competition in pool play with a 7-0 record. They defeated the United States 8-7 with two runs in the final frame to win the game, Dae-Ho Lee hitting a homerun in the game. Hyun-Jin Roo was the winning pitcher as they shutout Canada 1-0 and Dae-Ho Lee hit his second homerun of the event in their 5-3 victory over Japan. Of their seven wins, four were by one run.
In the semi-finals South Korea shocked Japan again 6-2. Hyun-Jin Ryu got the start against Cuba and Seung-yeop Lee hit his second homerun of the Olympics and South Korea won another one run ball game, defeating Cuba 3-2 to win the gold medal. South Korea had made a statement to the baseball world that they were a force to contend with.
In the old baseball world cups Korea got their ascension to prominence with a bronze medal finish in 1978, their first baseball medal in international competition. They improved to a silver in the next baseball world cup in 1980 and then won the gold medal in 1982. The 1982 gold medal was tainted by the fact the best team in the world, Cuba did not participate in this event. After that Korea won a bronze in 1990 and silvers in 1986, 1994, 1998 and 2005. The reward for many of these players was an exemption from the compulsory military service all Korean males have to complete in their youth.
Korea continued their success in the 2009 World Baseball Classic winning pool A and finishing second in the second round to advance to the semifinals. There they walloped Venezuela 10-2 to play Japan in the championship match, a team they had already beaten twice in the tournament and lost to once. Japan defeated them in the finals in 10 innings 5-3. This was just another untimely loss in the life of baseball for Korea.
Korea stumbled in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, failing to get past Taiwan and Netherlands, with the three tied for first place at 2-1. South Korean fans felt a little ripped off not being allowed to advance after only losing one game. They got a measure of revenge in the Premier 12 where they got past the first round despite losses to Japan and the United States. In the single elimination playoff stage they eliminated Cuba, upset Japan and then knocked off a team of minor leaguers from the United States 8-0 to win the gold medal.
Now they are hosting the first round of the WBC in a brand new state of the art stadium. It will be a tough pool with Taiwan, Israel and the Netherlands in it. One interesting note about the Korean team - their manager does not want to use the designated pitcher pool. He will win with the 28 players currently on the roster.
International Ranking - Korea is currently ranked third, fueled by their recent gold medal victory in the Premier 12. The Netherlands will be their toughest test despite their ninth place ranking, but this team has a bevy of major leaguers on their roster. Taiwan, who is ranked fourth is another tough test. Israel is ranked 41st, but that is a bit misleading since their roster is sprinkled with players who have major league experience.
Pitchers - Woo-Chan Cah, Won-Jun Chang, Si-Hwan Jang, Hyun-Seung Lee, Chang-Yong Lim, Jung-Woo Lim, Seung-Hwan Oh, Hee-Soo Park, Dae-Eun Rhee, Chang-Min Sim, Jong-Hyun Won, Kyu-Min Woo, Hyeon-Jong Yang
Catchers - Tae-Gun Kim, Eui-Ji Yang
Infielders - Kyoung-Min Hur, Ha-Seong Kim, Jae-Ho Kim, Tae-Kyun Kim, Dae-Ho Lee, Jae-Won Oh, Sok-Min Park, Geon-Chang Seo
Outfielders - Hyun-Wook, Choi, Yong-Kyu Lee, Byung-Hun Min, Kun-Woo Park, Ah-Seop Son
Strengths - The one major leaguer they have is Seung-Hwan Oh, the closer for the St Louis Cardinals. Oh was also a closer in Japan. There was some controversy about including him on the roster because of his affiliation with gamblers. If he comes back to the KBO to finish out his career he will have to serve a suspension because of the violation. Dae-Ho Lee played in the major leagues last year but signed a lucrative contract to return to Korea. He played a few years in Japan but in his early years he was one of the most prolific homerun hitters in baseball. Lee holds the international baseball record for most consecutive games with a homerun with nine. Geon-chang Seo is the only Korean player to finish with 200 hits in a season. He will play second base for the Koreans. Offense tends to reign supreme in the KBO so offensive numbers have to be taken lightly, but the power source for Korea appears to be Sok-Min Park who hit 32 homeruns. He will handle third for Korea. Tae-Kyun Kim was second in hitting at .365 in the KBO. His defense is limited to DH or pinch hitting.
Weakness - The starting pitching may be better than given credit for because of the offensive oriented KBO. Hyun-Jong Yang was the only Korean pitcher to reach 200 innings with a 3.68 ERA. Woo-Chan Cha will be their other ace. The fact that a number of their players who left for the major leagues such as Shin-soo Choo, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Hyun-Soo Kim, Jung-Ho Park and Byung-Ho Park are not playing for the team because of their need to fight for roster spots decreases the quality of the team. Even the recently signed San Francisco Giant third baseman Jae-Gyun Hwang is not on the roster.
Prospects to Watch - This is an older team. Some of the younger players such as Ha-Seong Kim myworld does not know enough about to comment.
Expected Finish - Myworld thinks the Koreans have enough to escape into the second round, but that is probably as far as they get.