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New face emerges as unlikely hero for Nexen in preseason

A virtually unknown outfielder has emerged as an unlikely hero for the Nexen Heroes so far this preseason in the Korea Baseball Organization.

Kang Ji-kwang, a 23-year-old pitcher-turned-outfielder, has taken the league by storm, barely a week into the preseason. On Thursday, the right-handed batter belted two home runs and drove in three runs as the Heroes defeated the SK Wyverns 6-0. Both of the long balls were hit off SK’s former Major League Baseball starter Jo-Jo Reyes.

Kang now leads the league with three home runs, five runs scored and 13 total bases in 14 at-bats, and is tied with two others for the league-high five RBIs. 
The Nexen Heroes’ Kang Ji-kwang (Yonhap)
The Nexen Heroes’ Kang Ji-kwang (Yonhap)

He’s batting .286, with a .450 on-base percentage and a .929 slugging percentage.

Kang has played in all five preseason games for the Heroes through Thursday, and their record sits at three wins, one loss and one tie.

It’s been a pleasantly surprising run for the career minor leaguer, who is trying to make the most of his limited opportunities this preseason.

Kang was a late-round pick by the LG Twins out of high school in 2009, but he underwent elbow surgery that same year, which forced him to sit out the 2010 season, too.

After completing his mandatory military service, Kang’s elbow didn’t improve much, and that prompted him to switch to outfield before the 2013 season.

Last year, Kang batted .231 in 21 games in the Futures League, the KBO’s minor league, but was left off the Twins’ 40-man roster after the season. The Heroes picked him up in the Rule 5 draft last winter.

Given a reprieve with a new club, Kang had a solid spring training camp and manager Yeom Kyung-yup promised to give the player plenty of action during the preseason.

Yeom had actually watched Kang in high school as a scout for the Twins. The manager has already said Kang will most likely begin the regular season in the minors, but that hasn’t prevented him from extolling virtues of his diamond in the rough, saying Kang has the talent to hit 30 homers and steal 30 bases in a season.

Kang said he’s just trying to enjoy the ride.

“I think playing every game has helped a great deal,” Kang told reporters after Thursday’s game. “In practice games during spring training, I didn’t draw any walks in 25 plate appearances. I am walking more now (four walks in 20 plate appearances) and seeing the ball better. I’ve grown more confident because my on-base percentage has gotten better, too.”

Kang said he weighed 87 kilograms when he first joined the Heroes late last year but has since put on 12 kilograms. Kang, who’s listed as 181 centimeters tall, said the extra weight has helped him generate more power. (Yonhap)
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