A largely disappointing regular season for South Korean players in Major League Baseball (MLB) drew to a conclusion across the United States on Wednesday, with two of five Koreans who saw action this year moving on to the postseason.
One of them, San Diego Padres shortstop Kim Ha-seong, was the best of the South Korean bunch in 2022. In his second big league season, Kim established himself as a strong defender at a premium position while also showing improvements at the plate.
Kim finished with a .251/.325/.383 line, 11 home runs, 59 RBIs and 12 steals in 150 games.
Kim had to step in as the Padres’ everyday shortstop with the incumbent star, Fernando Tatis Jr., missing the early portion of the season with a shoulder injury. The job became Kim’s for the rest of the season in August, when Tatis was suspended for 80 games after testing positive for a banned substance.
Advanced fielding metrics rate Kim as one of the National League’s top defensive players at any position. He will look to maintain that form in the National League (NL) Wild Card Series against the New York Mets, starting at 8:07 p.m. Friday in New York, or 9:07 a.m. Saturday in Seoul.
Choi Ji-man of the Tampa Bay Rays is the other South Korean headed to the postseason, though he had an up-and-down regular season.
The first baseman enjoyed a career-high 13-game hitting streak in June, which pushed his batting average to .284.
But Choi slumped badly through the dog days of summer, and his batting average nose-dived to .234 by the end of August. He batted only .109 (5-for-46) in August. The left-handed Choi has often sat against left-handed starters throughout his career, but he was also held out of the lineup against right-handers in some games in September.
Choi homered in the regular season finale Wednesday in Boston against the Red Sox, and finished the year with 11 home runs and 52 RBIs in 113 games, along with a .234/.342/.389 line. He struck out a career-worst 123 times.
The Rays will face the Cleveland Guardians in the American League (AL) Wild Card Series. Their series begins 12:07 p.m. Friday in Cleveland, or 1:07 a.m. Saturday in Seoul.
The other Wild Card Series in the AL will pit the Toronto Blue Jays against the Seattle Mariners. However, Toronto’s Korean left-hander, Ryu Hyun-jin, won’t be playing, having undergone a season-ending elbow operation in June.
Some forearm and ultimately elbow problems contributed to Ryu’s dismal performance prior to the surgery. He went 2-0 but with a 5.67 ERA in six starts, with 32 hits and five home runs served up in only 27 innings.
This was the third year of Ryu’s four-year deal with the Blue Jays. He will most likely miss the first half of next season too and will then hit free agency at age 36 with a history of elbow and shoulder problems.
Two South Koreans made big league appearances with the rebuilding Pittsburgh Pirates this year, with one of them thriving in limited opportunities.
Utility player Park Hoy-jun made the Pirates’ Opening Day roster in April but ended up playing just 23 games across four different stints.
Park was first sent down to Triple-A on April 22. He was brought back up on May 29 but was demoted the very next day.
The Pirates brought him back up to the majors on June 13 before returning him to the minors on July 5.
They called him up one last time in September, but Park had just one plate appearance off the bench before returning to Triple-A.
Park had a .216/.276/.373 line with two home runs and six RBIs. The versatile player appeared at second base, third base, shortstop and right field this year.
Park’s Korean teammate in Triple-A, infielder Bae Ji-hwan, earned his first callup on Sept. 23 and made his big league debut the same day. The 23-year-old picked up his first MLB hit in that game and then had at least two hits in four of his final seven games.
Making the most of his opportunities in a late-season audition, Bae batted .333/.405/.424 with six RBIs and three steals. He handled second base, left field and center field on defense. (Yonhap)