SPORTS

Brewers’ Thames a ‘Korean’ baseball success story

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Jul 10, 2017 - 17:49
  • Updated : Jul 10, 2017 - 17:49
Eric Thames has been a surprise. Slashing .248/.374/.562, and tied for fourth in the National League with 23 home runs, he is a big reason the Milwaukee Brewers enter the All-Star break in first place, having far exceeded their pre-season expectations.

Brewers fans aside, perhaps the keenest observers of Thames’ unexpected success have been fans and players in the Korean Baseball Organization. Thames, who played for the KBO’s NC Dinos from 2014-2016, averaging a .349/.451/.721 line with 41 home runs, is important proof that KBO success can translate into major league success. 

Milwaukee Brewers' first baseman Eric Thames hits a home run against the Baltimore Orioles on July 4, 2017. (Yonhap)
This proof is especially important to Korean baseball players like Ha Joo-seok and Son Ah-seob, who have their eyes on major league success, because the KBO is still largely seen by MLB scouts and front offices as a league of inferior quality, particular for position players.

Though Koreans have played in the MLB since 1994, no position player had made the jump from the KBO until the Pittsburgh Pirates took a flyer on the Nexen Heroes’ shortstop Kang Jung-ho in 2015. Kang’s success in the 2015 and 2016 seasons helped increase MLB interest in Korean talent, but more recent transfers have not gone as well.

Baltimore’s Kim Hyun-soo hit well in 2016, but has struggled this year, hitting .229 with virtually no power. Minnesota’s Park Byung-ho has struggled to make contact, even in the minor leagues. Hwang Jae-gyun made his debut for the San Francisco Giants in June, but has floundered, hitting .194. Kang has not yet played in 2017 due to legal troubles.

That leaves just Thames, who in positioning an underdog Milwaukee to make a playoff run for the first time since 2011, carries not only the hopes of Brewers fans, but also the major league dreams of his former Korean teammates and rivals, on his shoulders.

By Alex Park / Intern reporter (parkjky@heraldcorp.com)