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KBO clubs set to open training camps

All nine clubs in the top South Korean baseball league will begin their overseas training camps this week, starting their offseason preparation in earnest.

The Korea Baseball Organization clubs will all leave the country on Wednesday and spend around 50 days in warmer regions before returning home in early March.

Away from the biting winter in South Korea, the three-time defending champs Samsung Lions, along with pitchers and catchers of the Kia Tigers, will set up their camps on the Pacific island of Guam. The Lotte Giants’ pitching staff will also be training in the Pacific, on the neighboring island of Saipan.

The Giants’ position players will be among those flying across the ocean to the United States. They will be joined by the LG Twins, the Nexen Heroes and the NC Dinos in Arizona. The Doosan Bears’ pitchers and catchers, along with three foreign players, will also report to the camp in the Grand Canyon State.

One other team, the SK Wyverns, will train in Florida.

The rest of the Bears will be in Miyazaki, Japan, while position players of the Tigers and the entire Hanwha Eagles will be in Okinawa, also in Japan.

Teams that start off in Arizona or Florida will move to Japan or Taiwan in mid-February for the second half of their training.

They will face Japanese or fellow South Korean clubs in practice games, too.

In a major offseason change, the KBO has added one extra roster spot for foreign players starting in 2014. Teams can now carry up to three players from overseas, and the cap is four for the expansion Dinos for 2014. All nine teams must sign at least one position player to fill up their quota.

All imports in the KBO the past two seasons have been pitchers, and the addition of new bats is expected to affect the dynamics of the league. Luke Scott, who signed with the Wyverns, and Jorge Cantu, a new member of the Bears, are among the high-profile signees this winter. They each have more than 100 career home runs in Major League Baseball.

The Lions, with three consecutive titles in the bag, will be the team to beat again. The 1986-1989 Haitai (now Kia) Tigers remain the only KBO club to ever win four straight championships, and the Lions will be in for a tough fight to match that feat.

Over the winter, they’ve lost their closer Oh Seung-hwan, the league’s all-time leader in saves, via free agency, as the right-hander signed with the Hanshin Tigers in Japan. Also, Samsung’s leadoff man, Bae Young-seob, has been conscripted into mandatory military service. (Yonhap News)