South Korean teenage baseball prospect Bae Ji-hwan is trying his best to shrug off a murky future after his US deal got wiped out over a rules violation.
The 18-year-old shortstop out of Kyeongbuk High School in Daegu, some 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, was the recipient of the 2017 Lee Young-min Batting Award at an annual amateur baseball ceremony Monday evening. The award, named after a former baseball great, is presented to the top-hitting high school player each year.
In 27 games in 2017, Bae went 45-for-95 at the plate, a .474 clip.
But Bae has yet to find a club where he could show off his hitting prowess next year.
South Korean high school baseball player Bae Ji-hwan poses for a picture after receiving the Lee Young-min Batting Award as the nation`s top high school hitter at a ceremony in Seoul on Dec. 18, 2017. (Yonhap)
Bae reached a deal with the Atlanta Braves in September, but two months later, Major League Baseball voided the contract, as part of its sanctions on the Braves for a series of other international signing violations.
He became a free agent, but because he'd signed his first professional contract outside Korea, he's been ruled ineligible to play in the Korea Baseball Organization, the top domestic circuit, for two years.
Had Bae not skipped the annual KBO draft, he would have been a top-five pick.
After receiving his award Monday, Bae said he wasn't as upset about the news of the Braves' penalties as others feared he might be.
"I think time will heal everything," he said. "Right now, I don't know whether I'll move to the United States or stay in Korea to play baseball. I'll leave all the possibilities open. No matter where I end up, I'll prepare myself to play the best baseball that I can play."
Bae said how he spends the next two years without affiliated baseball will be critical to his career. He is going through conditioning workouts in the mornings and technical drills in the afternoons at his school.
Bae said he's taking it all in stride because, "If you're going to experience bad things, it's better off to do it early in your career than later. I am trying to stay as positive as I can."
The speedy shortstop said he doesn't have any regrets over choosing the US in favor of the KBO. He spent the month of September in the Florida Instructional League, open to young prospects, and said he wouldn't trade that experience with anything else.
"I learned more during the one month there than I had my entire playing career," he said. "The US is the best baseball country in the world, and I wanted to learn baseball in that country." (Yonhap)