Two Korean Teenage Superstars and Three Returning Players Excite KBO Fans

The KBO is entering an exciting season with the Shohei Otani equivalent exciting crowds. He is just one of two teenage superstars who are making an impact in the KBO. So are the three returning major leaguers, who may have struggled in the United States, but they hope to find their bats in the hitter friendly KBO.

Kang Baek-Ho was touted as being the Shohei Ohtani of Korea. He played for the silver medal Korean team in the 18 and under World Cup in Thunder Bay, Canada, breaking out a fastball that clicked the radar guns at 95 and hitting bombs over the fence. He was a first round pick of the newest Korean team, the KT Wiz. The crowds came out to see him. He did not disappoint.

Kang hit the first KBO homer of the season. The 18 year old has slugged three more, his latest a grand slam homerun in the 20-8 win of the Wiz over the Doosan Bears. In seven games Kang is hitting .370 with two doubles, four homeruns and 10 RBIs. Six of his 10 hits have gone for extra bases. The Wiz are getting some positive results from his slugging, winning four of their first seven games. Kang has decided to focus on hitting in the KBO, abandoning the hill for the time being.

The other teenage superstar is 19 year old Jung-Hoo Lee, who was voted Rookie of the year in the KBO last year. He was the first player taken out of high school to appear in every KBO game for his team, bypassing the KBO Futures League, which is the equivalent of a high school player going straight to the major leagues without playing any minor league ball. His father Jong-Beom Lee was an MVP in the KBO a number of years ago so the blood lines are there to play baseball.

Last year Nexon Heroes centerfielder Jung-Hoo hit .324 with 2 homeruns and 47 RBIs. His 179 hits were the most ever for a first year player in the KBO. This year he is hitting .407 with four walks and three whiffs. He does not seem to carry the power of Park in his early years but the power is expected to show once he matures. His only extra base hits this year are the three doubles, and despite batting lead off with some speed he has yet to steal a base.

One of his teammates is former Minnesota Twins first baseman/designated hitter Byung-Ho Park. Stuck in the minor leagues Park negotiated out of his four year contract with the Twins to resign with the Nexon Heroes. In 2014 and 2015, his last two years with the Heroes, Park slugged 52 and 53 homeruns. In the major leagues he had trouble making contact, which is also an issue in the KBO (303 whiffs in 268 games in 2014 and 2015). In seven games in the KBO he has already slugged three homeruns and is hitting .435. His patience has improved since returning from the major/minor leagues with 9 walks and five whiffs. Those are still early returns, but in his career he has never walked more than he has struck out, coming closest in 2013 with a 92/96 walk to whiff ratio.

Jae-Gyun Hwang signed a minor league contract with the San Francisco Giants last year. Despite the Giants struggles at the position Hwang only got an 18 game opportunity late in the year, hitting .154 with one homerun. In AAA he achieved some success, hitting .285 with 10 homeruns. In his 2016 KBO season Hwang hit .335 with 27 homeruns and 113 RBIs. In his first seven KBO games this year Hwang is hitting .300 with two homeruns. In the KBO that is not lighting up the league.

The last of the returning players is Hyun Soo-Kim, who had success in his first year with the Baltimore Orioles, hitting over .300 but showing little power. In his second year he did not get a lot of starting opportunities, was traded to the Phillies and never got on track. No major league team signed him as a free agent for the 2018 season and he signed with the LG Twins. In 2015 he played for the Doosan Bears, hitting .325 with a career high 28 homeruns with 121 RBIs. He also had a 101/63 walk to whiff ratio. In his return to the KBO he is showing less patience (3/8 walk to whiff ratio) resulting in a .241 average with one homerun. The LG Twins are struggling with a 2-5 record in the early start to the season.

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