Two former top rookie award winners in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) believe their new hotshot teammate is "the real deal."
Lee Jeong-hoo, an 18-year-old rookie out of high school for the Nexen Heroes, was sensational in the preseason that wrapped up Sunday. He tied for the KBO lead with 15 hits in just 33 at-bats.
Lee Jeong-hoo of the Nexen Heroes watches his hit against the NC Dinos in their Korea Baseball Organization preseason game at Masan Stadium in Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province, on March 15, 2017. (Yonhap)
He didn't even have enough at-bats to qualify for the preseason batting title, despite hitting .455.
The outfielder drove in four and scored nine. In a testament to his aggressiveness at the plate and ability to put the ball in play, Lee struck out only twice and drew just two walks.
Seo Geon-chang, the Heroes' captain and the 2012 Rookie of the Year, thinks Lee will continue to thrive in the regular season.
"Those preseason numbers aren't a fluke; he has great potential," Seo told reporters before the annual KBO media day festivities in Seoul on Monday. "We've been telling each other, 'He's the real deal.'"
Shin Jae-young, who won last year's top rookie honors with a 15-7 record, said Lee should already be considered a strong Rookie of the Year candidate.
"I think the pitchers will start figuring him out during the regular season," Shin said. "But Lee has the talent to overcome those challenges."
Before this preseason, Lee's biggest claim to fame was having Lee Jong-beom, one of the KBO's biggest stars in the 1990s, as his father. The senior Lee was the Rookie of the Year in 1993 and then the MVP in 1994, when he batted .393 with 19 home runs, 77 RBIs and 84 steals for the Haitai Tigers. In 1997, he batted .324 with a career-high 30 home runs and 64 steals, becoming the first KBO player with a 30-30 season and at least a .300 batting average.
Last year, Lee Jeong-hoo was drafted in the first round by the Heroes, and the Lees became the first father-son duo to be selected in the first round of the KBO draft.
And if the junior Lee wins the Rookie of the Year in 2017, they will be the first father-son pair to be so honored. (Yonhap)