Top Korean Hitters

Below is myworld’s top ten Korean hitters. We tried to restrict this list to prospects under 32, but we fell short and included a couple of ex major leaguers. The KBO tends to be a very veteran league, except when it comes to pitchers. There seems to be a wave of young pitchers under 25 who have entered the league. This wave has not come forth with the hitters.

1. Lee Jung-Hoo OF (Kiwoom Heroes) - He is the son of a KBO MVP Lee Jong-beom. He came up in 2017 as an 18 year old without seeing a day in the minors and hit .324. That got him voted Rookie of the year. His career average entering this season was .340. The only tool lacking in his game was power. Despite the high batting average his slugging percentage was below .500. This year the power seems to have arrived. He is hitting .360 with already a career high 9 homeruns, resulting in a slugging percentage of .610. He plays right field, but does not have an arm as strong as Ichiro Suzuki. Everything else is compatible. Myworld does not see him lasting long in Korea. He could be a starter for any of the 30 major league teams.

2. Kang Baek-Ho 1B (KT Wiz) - When he came out of high school he was compared to Shohei Ohtani because of his ability to pitch and hit. He was drafted a year after Lee and did not have to play in the minor leagues. He said he would focus on hitting his first year and did quite well, hitting .290 with 29 homeruns. That got him the 2018 Rookie of the Year award. In preseason games the next season the Wiz tried Kang on the mound, but his heart was not into it. He preferred to focus on hitting and the pitching experiment died. His numbers went down slightly the next year, possibly due to injuries that limited him to just 116 games. He hit .336 with just 13 homeruns, his slugging average dropping just a splinter below .500 (.495). He has already hit 12 homeruns this year, moving from the outfield to first base. This could impact his major league value as first baseman are expected to show power. Kang does not seem to have a problem showing that but will it appear once he arrives in the major leagues?

3. Na Sung-Bum RF (NC Dinos) - The third left handed bat in this mix, except Na throws lefthanded. Na was also a pitcher while in college and was drafted in the first round by the Dinos as a pitcher. He played his first season in the minors where he led the league in homeruns. That ended his pitching career. In his first season with the KBO in 2013 he hit .243 with 14 homeruns. His homerun numbers have been consistenly above 20 every year since except last year when he was limited to 23 games because of injury. The knee injury has limited the Dinos to playing him mostly as a DH this year. Na seems fine with that, slugging 15 homeruns early in the season and hitting .311. It would not surprise myworld if Na found himself in the major leagues next year.

4. Kim Ha-Seong SS (Kiwoom Heroes) - When Kang Jung-Ho left for the Pirates, taking his 40 homerun season with him, Kim was asked to take his place at shortstop. He had only hit .188 his first year as a teenager. The next year he hit .290 with 19 homeruns as a 19 year old. He may lack the power of Kang, but he is a better defensive shortstop. At the 2019 Premier 12 he was voted the best defensive shortstop. The speed is there to steal 30 bases and there is enough pop in his bat to go north of 20 homeruns. His batting average sits around .290. This year could be his last in the KBO as the Heroes have said they will post him for the major leagues. After a slow start to the season his average has climbed to .280 and he has slugged 11 homeruns. His career slugging average falls just short of .500 (.488). If he can play shortstop he will be valuable, but second base could be an alternative position.

5. Yang Eui-Ji C (NC Dinos) - He started his career with the Doosan Bears and was signed as a free agent in 2019 by the NC Dnos. He is considered the top catcher in the KBO, though at age 33 his reign maybe slipping. He has got himself a slew of gold glove awards, an MVP from 2016, rookie of the year in 2010 and a batting title last year when he hit .354. His rookie season in the KBO he hit for power slugging 20 homeruns, but he failed to reach double digits his next three years. The power came back in 2015 when he again hit 20 and he has hit in double digits for the next six years. He should make it seven in a row after this year, with a tally of 8 already, but his .293 average may not result in a repeat of the batting title.

6. Koo Ja-Wook LF (Samsung Lions) - Not too sure if I am sold on Koo. He is another left handed bat who throws righthanded. He won the Rookie of the Year award in 2015 with a .349 average and 11 homeruns. The next year he improved to .343 with 14 homeruns. While the next two years his power numbers got him into the 20 homerun neighborhood, his batting average dropped to .310 and .333. Last year he cratered to a .267 average with just 15 homeruns and a .775 OPS where in the previous years he had never fallen below .916. He seems to have gotten his MOJO back this year hitting .333, and after a slow start with the power numbers has been able to put six over the fence. His OPS is back in the .900 neighborhood where it was his first four seasons. Myworld believes he is short in power to make it as a corner outfielder in the major leagues, but at 27 he is hitting his prime and perhaps those power numbers will increase.

7. Park Byung-Ho 1B (Heroes) - Myworld does not think the Minnesota Twins showed enough patience with Park. He was the big time slugger in the KBO, bopping over 50 homeruns two seasons in a row before he was posted for the major leagues. There was a tendency to swing and miss in his game, with his strikeout numbers becoming abhorrent during those 50 homerun seasons. With the Twins he hit just .191 with 12 homeruns, struggling to make solid contact. He was sent down to the minors where he played all the following year, failing to live up to the power in the KBO. The Twins bought out his contract so he could return to the KBO. His return to the KBO in 2018 saw him hit 43 homeruns, with a .345 batting average. He slumped a bit last year dropping to .280 with just 33 homeruns. Perhaps it is the Twins name that does not appeal to Park. He was drafted by the LG Twins as a big time slugger in 2005. In his four seasons with the KBO Twins he failed to hit over .218. In 2011 they traded him to the Heroes. His batting average climbed to .254 with 13 homeruns. The next two years he was voted the MVP of the KBO, hitting over 30 homeruns and driving in more than 100 runs both years.

8. Kim Hyun-Soo LF (LG Twins) - Kim seemed a little intimidated when he reached the major leagues. In the KBO prior to the draft he was not noted for his power. In his last year before being posted he hit a career high 28 homeruns while driving in a career high 121 runs playing for the Doosan Bears. That was good timing to be a free agent. In the major leagues he became a corner outfielder who lacked power, hitting just 7 homeruns in his two year major league career. If he played a good defense perhaps he would have been more valuable, but he was lacking in that area as well. He returned to Korea in 2018, signing with the LG Twins where he hit a career high .362 with 20 homeruns. Perhaps the exposure to major league pitching gave him a new identity in the KBO. Kim did make the All World Baseball Classic team in 2009. He also has a gold medal to his credit after Korea upset Cuba in the 2008 Olympics.

9. Choi Jeong 3B (SK Wyverns) - At 33 years old the major leagues has probably passed him by. He has moderate power numbers his first 11 years with the Wyverns, hitting double digits in power numbers but nothing more than 28. In 2016 he exploded with back to back 40 homerun campaigns that made him one of the more feared hitters in the KBO. In 2018 his homerun numbers dropped to 35 and last year when they deadened the ball he slugged just 29. His OPS and slugging has remained over .900 and .500 for 11 seasons in a row. There is a little swing and miss to his game. Entering the 2020 season he had a career average of .289. His 346 career homeruns is third in the KBO and no hitter in the KBO has been hit more than his 260 hit by pitch. When in high school Choi was a pitcher who could throw in the mid-90s and played for the 2004 junior national team as a pitcher. He was also a pretty good hitter as well, which is what he chose once in the KBO, nwinning the MVP of the KBO in 2008.

10. Kang Jin-Sung 1B (NC Dinos) - Another pick we are not sold on. He stands just 5′11″ and hits righthanded. Those data points are ugly to major league scouts when looking at first baseman. They prefer lefthanded hitters and giants who stand at least 6′3″. Kang was a fourth round pick in 2012 and got three at bats the following year. The next four years were a blank slate, some of those due to military service. His next three years he played in less than 50 games. This year he has been one of the bats responsible for the NC Dinos fast start. He is hitting .343 with 9 homeruns and 40 RBIs. The homerun numbers are a little low but he is fifth in batting average. At 26 years of age this could be his breakout year.

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