The Korea Baseball Organization announced a 25-man final roster for the Asia Professional Baseball Championship, which will take place from Nov. 16-19 in Tokyo. It will feature pros from South Korea, Japan and Chinese Taipei under 24 years of age -- born on or after Jan. 1, 1993 -- or those with less than three years of professional experience.
Lee Jung-hoo, hot-hitting outfielder for the Nexen Heroes, was a no-brainer choice. He led all first-year players this year with a .324 batting average, 179 hits and 111 runs scored while playing in all 144 games in 2017. His hits and runs scored totals are both KBO rookie records, and Lee is a virtual lock to win the Rookie of the Year honors.
|Sun Dong-yol, manager of the South Korean national baseball team, speaks at a press conference at the Korea Baseball Organization headquarters on Oct. 10, 2017, after announcing his 25-man roster for the inaugural Asia Professional Baseball Championship. The tournament begins Nov. 16, 2017, in Tokyo. (Yonhap)|
Lee's father, former KBO MVP Lee Jong-beom, will serve as a base running coach for the national team.
Teams are each allowed three overage players as "wild cards," but manager Sun Dong-yol chose not to exercise that right, hoping to give more young players a chance to play some international ball.
Another Nexen player, shortstop Kim Ha-seong, was also a logical choice. At 21, Kim enjoyed his best offensive year with a .302/.376/.513 line, 23 home runs, 36 doubles and 114 RBIs, all of them new career highs.
Koo Ja-wook of the Samsung Lions, 24, is another potent bat on the team. The 2015 KBO Rookie of the Year led his club with a .310 batting average and has set career highs with 21 home runs and 107 RBIs.
On the mound, Lotte Giants' right-hander Park Se-woong got the call. The 21-year-old starter went 12-6 and ranked eighth in the KBO with a 3.68 ERA.
Another promising right-hander, Jang Hyun-sik of the NC Dinos, will join Park on the staff. On Monday, Jang tossed seven strong innings against the Lotte Giants in the ongoing KBO postseason series, holding the opponents to one unearned run in a 1-0 loss.
Sun lamented a lack of right-handed bats, with the exception of Kim Ha-seong, and also a dearth of serviceable catchers but said he hopes young players will take this tournament as an opportunity to grow more.
"You can't develop good catchers overnight," the former MVP-winning pitcher said. "Only experience will allow players to take the next step."
Sun's hands were also forced because some experienced young pitchers, namely Samsung right-hander Sim Chang-min, are injured and unable to participate.
"We just have to go with inexperienced arms in this tournament, but as long as they can pitch the way they're capable of pitching, they should be OK," Sun added. "It's just a matter of battling nerves in big moments. Young pitchers tend to lose their edge when they're too nervous, and we (coaches) have to help them minimize their mistakes." (Yonhap)