The Lotte Giants have gained a reputation as a power-hitting team, and they have the bats to back it up, with names like Lee Dae-ho, Kang Min-ho, Jeon Joon-woo and Choi Jun-seok. But Lotte is not just a one-dimensional team of sluggers; they also have players, like center fielder Na Kyung-min, who are defined not by their power, but by their hustle and scrappy play.
Na took a circuitous path to join the Giants. He graduated high school in 2009 and signed with the Chicago Cubs to try and make in Major League Baseball. But after toiling in the minors for several years in the Cubs and San Diego Padres’ organizations, he returned to Korea in 2013 to serve his mandatory military service. He joined the Korean Baseball Organization last season after being signed by Lotte in the third round of the amateur draft, and played 35 games in the 2016 season. He impressed the team in his first season, and this season in an expanded role he has played in 61 games, hitting .277 with a home run and 9 RBIs.
In this screencap, Lotte Giants outfielder Na Kyung-min appeals to the third base umpire for a safe call in a game against the Doosan Bears on June 11, 2017.
Na has been particularly impressive in Lotte’s last four games. He had three straight multihit games starting July 26, and was the catalyst in Lotte’s comeback victory against the SK Wyverns on Sunday, working a 10-pitch walk against SK closer Park Hee-soo in the ninth inning and coming around to score the tying run.
Before Sunday’s game against the Wyverns, Na mentioned his recent success was the result of a change in his hitting approach, saying, “I wasn’t doing well early in the season, so I had a conference with our hitting coach before the All-Star break. He was hesitant to make any in-season changes, but ultimately we worked for a month on changing my form.”
Na mentioned that he keeps thinking back to the start of his recent success, a game on July 26 against the Hanhwa Eagles. In that game, he hit his first major league home run, a 115-meter shot off Hanhwa pitcher Lee Choong-ho. Na smiled recalling his homer, saying, “I was really excited that day. It was my first home run since elementary school, and my first home run with a wood bat. I got as many congratulatory messages that day as the day when I first made the (KBO) majors.”
“I can’t dwell on the home run too much though,” he added, after some thought, “I’m not really a home run hitter. I got lucky and hit one just far enough.”
Na has become known to Lotte fans for his hard-nosed hustling playing style. Appearing at the top of the Giants’ lineup, he gets on base and disrupts the timing of opposing pitchers, setting the table for their big bats. He also is a solid defender, and is known for giving his all in the field without regard for his body.
Na explained, “My playing style has always been like that, even in my school days. I always try to do my best in every game. Playing hard, playing small ball, hustling, that’s my style.”
Na particularly notes the role of a player like him in the power-hitting Lotte lineup. “On the team, there aren’t many hitters like me. I’m more of a slap hitter though, so it doesn’t help the team if I also try to swing for the fences. My advantage is speed and I’m always thinking of a way to get on base.
“Lotte is a team with an atmosphere I match well with. The fans are enthusiastic, and having a guiding presence like veteran Lee Dae-ho has been a huge benefit. The team is lacking players like me, so I feel I can contribute well. I will continue to show Lotte fans my best effort.”
Na and the Lotte Giants open a three game series against the LG Twins at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul on Tuesday night.
By Alex Park / Intern reporter (firstname.lastname@example.org)