Golden Boys of Korea

The last time baseball was in the Olympics was in 2008. Korea shocked the world by beating Cuba in the gold medal final game 3-2, Hyun-Jin Ryu the winning pitcher in that game (He kind of plays for the Dodgers but spends most of his time on the disabled list). The Cubans had just beaten a United States team 10-2 with Stephen Strasburg on the mound, though most of their runs were scored after Strasburg was removed from the game. Other players on that Korean team besides Ryu were Korean super sluggers Dae-Ho Lee and Seong-Yeop Lee, current major league reliever Seung-Hwan Oh and ex-major leaguer of the O’s and Phillies Hyun-Soo Kim.

The following year Korea continued their baseball excellence by finishing second to Japan in the World Baseball Classic. They lost in the finals 5-3 in ten innings, but beat a United States team in pool play. The WBC roster added major leaguer Shin-Soo Choo to their roster.

The excellent showing at these two international events created quite an impression on Little League aged youngsters, who vowed to be like their gold medal winning heroes when they grew up. Many of those players are now 18-20 years old and are adding some quality to the KBO. Below are ten players myworld has identified to watch, though there are a number of players we left out.

1. Baek-ho Kang OF (KT Wiz) - The 18 year old is called the Shohei Ohtani of Japan. At the 18 and under World Cup he exhibited a 95 mile per hour fastball and like Ohtani hit fastballs 400 feet. The KT Wiz made him the first pick in the KBO draft. He chose to focus on his hitting, abandoning pitching his first year in the KBO. This appears to have been a good choice. His first year he did not need any minor league seasoning, starting from day one for the Wiz. He is a cinch to win the rookie of the year award with his .302 average, 15 homeruns and 47 RBIs. He was voted to the KBO All Star team this year.

2. Jung-Hoo Lee OF (Nexen) - The 19 year old was the KBO rookie of the year last year, hitting .324 with two homeruns and 12 stolen bases while playing a solid right field and making the All Star team. This year injuries have kept him out of the lineup but when playing he hit .332 with four homeruns and four stolen bases. Prior to the injury he was showing improvement in his offense and as he matures the power should increase. He is the son of Jong-Beom Lee who won the MVP award in the KBO when he played.

3. Ha-Seong Kim SS (Nexen) - The 22 year old replaced Jung-Ho Kang at short after he went to the Pirates. As a 19 year old he hit .290 with 19 homeruns and 73 RBIs. Last year he hit 23 homeruns and drove in 114 runs, both career highs, while hitting .302. The Nexen franchise has some financial problems so posting him could bring in some much needed revenue. Don’t know if his defense would translate well in the major leagues at short but his drinking habits have to be better than Kang.

4. Ja-Wook Koo OF (Samsung) - At 25 years of age he is older than the other players on this list. Fans consider him the replacement for Seong-Yeop Lee, who they referred to as the Lion King and was considered the best player to ever play in the KBO by many. Lee is the career KBO homerun leader, despite player a number of years in Japan. Koo may never hit the same amount of homeruns as Lee but his 21 homeruns and 107 RBIs last year were career highs. This year his season was delayed by injuries but in 60 games he is hitting .316 with three homeruns and 36 RBIs. He was voted the KBO rookie of the year in 2015.

5. Won-Tae Choi RHP (Nexen) - The Heroes are loaded with players under 25. This is his fourth year in the KBO, despite his 21 years of age. Last year Choi started 25 games with a 4.46 ERA. The KBO is a very offensive league so what you look at is his 34/126 walk to whiff ratio in 149 innings. This year his numbers are the same, except he has reduced the number of balls clearing the fence, lowering his ERA considerably (3.73 ERA).

6.Chi-guk Park RHP (Doosan) - The 20 year old is only 5′9″. He pitches out of the bullpen. In 47 games he is 1-5, 3.22 with three saves and 10 holds. Park has a 11/48 walk to whiff ratio in just 50 innings. This is his second year in the KBO but he has taken a more pronounced role as a set-up reliever.

7. Duk-Joo Ham LHP (Doosan) - The 23 year old is the closer of the first place Bears. He has a 2.49 ERA with 17 saves and has struck out 46 hitters in 43 innings. This is his sixth season in the KBO but his first as the closer. Last year he was used as a starter (24 games) pitching 137 innings.

8. Hye-sung Kim 2B (Nexen) - This is the second year for the 19 year old in the KBO but his first as a starter. He also plays a little shortstop. His average is a bit low for the KBO (.268) but 15 steals in 17 attempts is evidence of his speed.

9. Byeong-wok Lim CF (Nexen) - The 22 year old plays beside Lee in centerfield to make one of the youngest outfields in the KBO. Like Kim his batting average is low (.285), but this is his first opportunity in the starting lineup after being a reserve his first four years. The left handed bat does show a little pop with 8 homeruns and a .456 slugging but his 16/74 walk to whiff ratio is a cause for concern. He has 14 stolen bases in 15 attempts.

10. Jong-deok Na C (Lotte) - At 20 years old he was voted to the All Star team despite his .134 average. Don’t know anything about him but a player with that low a batting average has to be well thought of to make the All Star team as a catcher. He has played in 77 of the Lotte Giants 83 games, again a lot of playing time for such a poor hitter.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.