Will there be another Korean big leaguer in 2024?
Kiwoom Heroes outfielder Lee Jung-hoo, 25, has already announced that he will play in the big leagues after the 2023 season. He also has his team’s permission. After the season, he can sign with a big league club through the posting system.
His current form is a bit concerning. As of Aug. 25, he’s batting .257 with a .347 on-base percentage, .377 slugging percentage, three home runs, and 21 RBIs in 42 games. His double-digit batting average, triple-digit slugging percentage, and on-base percentage are unfamiliar numbers for someone who was once one of the best hitters in the KBO.
Of course, one bad season isn’t going to change anyone’s opinion of him. Big league teams have been watching him for a while and have accumulated data.
Unless you’re psychic, we can’t read the minds of big-league decision-makers. Instead, we can ask those who have experienced him directly or indirectly what they think.
We asked some of the major leaguers who played against him or with him to share their thoughts on Lee.
Merrill Kelly: “Definitely a standout in the KBO”
Arizona Diamondbacks right-hander Merrill Kelly played for the SK Wyverns (now the SSG Landers) from 2015 to 2018. In his career against Lee, he is 7-for-15 with three walks and two strikeouts.
“It’s been five years since I’ve faced him,” said Kelly, who paused for a moment to reminisce, “I remember facing him. In terms of talent, he 안전놀이터 definitely stood out. Compared to a lot of players in the league, he just had a better overall skill set, so you couldn’t help but notice,” he said of Lee.
“He hit balls that other people don’t hit easily. You can see it on video. He has a really good technique to catch bad balls,” he said.
“The level in the major leagues is higher than that in the KBO, so no one knows what will happen, but I think he has a pretty good chance to succeed here,” he said, predicting that Lee could be successful in the big leagues.
When asked if he would recommend him to a team, he laughed and said, “I haven’t seen him in five years, so I don’t know what kind of hitter he’s developed into and what kind of season he’s having. We have a lot of left-handed hitting outfielders on our team, so I honestly don’t know if he’s a good fit for us right now.”
“I think he has a good chance of succeeding here,” he said.
Tommy Edmon: “Any team would be lucky to get him”
St. Louis Cardinals infielder Tommy Edmon, who played with Lee at the World Baseball Classic (WBC) in March, called him “a great player.” “He’s a good hitter, he’s got good defense, he’s got good feet, he’s got good running ability. He’s an all-around good player,” Edman said of Lee’s potential.
“I think he has the ability to play well here, and I’m excited to see what he can do,” he said, adding that Lee is clearly a big league player. “If a team asks, I would definitely recommend him. Any team would be lucky to have him,” he added.
“The players and coaches welcomed me, and I had the opportunity to meet Korean fans,” he said, describing the tournament as a “fun experience.
As for the disappointing results (2 wins, 2 losses, and a first-round exit), “When you go to a tournament, you want to win. It was a great group of teams, and I don’t think we played up to our potential. That’s what happens in baseball. Sometimes things don’t go your way.”
Ben Lively: “If Kim Ha-seong can come, so can Lee Jung-hoo”
Ben Lively, who joined the Samsung Lions during the 2019 season and played through the 2021 season and is now with the Cincinnati Reds, remembered Lee as a “really talented young player.”
“It was tough against him because a lot of Korean hitters like fastballs, and he’s a guy who really looks for pitches in the strike zone,” said Lively, who went 5-for-13 with one walk and one strikeout. He’s very patient and makes it difficult for pitchers.”
When asked if he thinks Lee can make it in the big leagues, he said emphatically, “Absolutely.” “If Kim Ha-seong can come here, he can come here,” he added.
A payoff pitch is a pitch a pitcher throws on a full count of three balls and two strikes. Translated, it’s the “deciding pitch. Sometimes it’s a heavy fastball, sometimes it’s a sharp changeup, sometimes it’s a miss. Once the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand, it’s no longer the pitcher’s, and once it leaves the writer’s hand, it’s no longer the writer’s. It’s up to you, the reader, to decide.