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Suspended veterans swinging hot bats in minors ahead of KBO return

(Yonhap)
(Yonhap)

Three of the four suspended players for the NC Dinos have been putting up strong numbers against minor league pitching in recent days, with their reinstatement for the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) less than a week away.

Last July, infielders Park Sok-min and Park Min-woo, along with outfielders Kwon Hui-dong and Lee Myung-ki, were slapped with 72-game ban by the league for violating COVID-19 health and safety protocols. With the four-person limit on private gatherings still in effect in Seoul, the players were penalized for holding a late night drinking party with friends at a hotel in the capital city during a road trip earlier that month.

In addition to the league ban, the Dinos meted out their own punishments on the quartet. Park Sok-min, the senior member of the group who organized the event, received a 50-game ban from the team. The other three each got a 25-game suspension.

And Park Min-woo, Kwon and Lee are eligible to rejoin the Dinos next Wednesday. They reported to their minor league affiliate in the Futures League on April 5, when the league suspension ended.

Through Wednesday, Kwon ranked second in the Futures League with 13 RBIs in 13 games, while putting up a .344/.436/.375 line. He has drawn six walks while striking out only three times.

Park Min-woo is batting .243 in 15 games after beginning the season on a 1-for-10 funk, but he has hit safely in three straight games. Park is contributing in other ways, with a Futures League-best nine walks and a solid .404 on-base percentage.

Lee has the best triple slash line of the trio, batting .355/.474/.452 in 13 games. He was particularly productive in Wednesday's game against the KT Wiz's affiliate, batting 2-for-3 with two RBIs, two walks and a stolen base.

All three had been regular members of the Dinos at the time of their incident. Park Min-woo, in particular, had been the team's leadoff hitter for several years and had developed into one of the KBO's premier contact hitters, with his lifetime batting average of .326 putting him among the top five on the all-time list.

Lee, who joined the Dinos in a midseason trade from the Kia Tigers in 2019, had brought some on-base and bat-to-ball skills in a table-setting role. Kwon, an original Dino who began his career in 2013, offered decent power.

And their return can't come fast enough for the Dinos. Through Wednesday's games, they were in last place by two games at 6-16, a disastrous start for a team that many pundits predicted would be one of five postseason participants this year. The Dinos have won consecutive games just once all season.

The Dinos are also dead last in several offensive categories: batting average (.219), runs (67), hits (158), home runs (seven), on-base percentage (.289), slugging percentage (.295), and batting average with runners in scoring position (.206). (Yonhap)

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