Eastern Promises: Asian Players in the MLB

SeoulSoxFan

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The Korean slugger Dae-ho Lee announces that he'll try to make a jump to the Majors, after winning the Japan Series & the series MVP. 
 
He was a mega-star in the KBL, having won the MVP in 2010 and the Gold Glove Award 4 times since 2005. He was signed by NPB's Softbank Hawks in 2012. 
 
His accomplishments are too numerous to list here, so I'll refer you to the Wiki page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lee_Dae-ho (highlights: he led KBL in HRs 4 consecutive seasons + 3-time NPB All-Star)
 
A quick comparison to his KBL vs. NPB career:
  • Games played: 1,150 vs. 570
  • BA: .309 vs. .293
  • HR: 225 (1 every 5.1 games played) vs. 98 (1 every 5.8 games played)
  • RBI: 809 (0.703 per game) vs. 348 (0.610 per game)
Roughly translated, he was quoted as saying:
 
A pro always gauges his worth by the salary he's paid, but most of all it's always been my dream to play in the major leagues. So besides the money, I'm looking for a new challenge to try harder and become a better player.
 
He is very popular for his outgoing personality, relaxed attitude, "teddy bear" looks, and his unusual build that resembles a modern day Asian Babe Ruth. He is very nimble for his size however, and can be an above-average 1B. 
 
Here he is going 3-4 during the 1st game of the Japan Series:
 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NDoRlxzO7WQ
 
And opening the score with a 2-run HR in the series-clinching 5th game (I believe he set a new JS record with 8 RBIs as well):
 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dXG2CYbGmiI
 
A lot of spotlight is on Byung-ho Park, who's rumored to be going to the Rangers to unite with Shin-soo Choo. For an AL contender, it may do itself a favor by also looking into Lee as a 1B/DH. 
 
P.S. Get well soon Jung-ho Kang, obviously. 
 

E5 Yaz

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It even says D.H. on the back of his uniform!
 
They're not the type of team to do it, but it would be a decent risk for the Astros
 

SeoulSoxFan

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One plus (or a minus, depending on the PoV) is that as a free agent, he won't require a posting fee. He's already 33, so the salary request may be quite reasonable:
 
http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2015/11/dae-ho-lee-becomes-free-agent-seeks-mlb-deal.html
 

Lee has shown plenty with his right-handed bat, though, swatting 31 home runs and posting a .282/.364/.524 slash last year in the highly competitive NPB. That was his best overall campaign, but he has been quite consistently productive in Japan’s top league and the KBO before that.
 
Notably, because he is a free agent, Lee won’t require a posting fee. That eliminates some complications from the process and ought to drop the overall asking price. Presumably, the veteran will be looking first and foremost for opportunity, and it’s easy to imagine a variety of teams rolling the dice if the price is right.
 
Top Korean hitters have done well recently, with Rangers' Choo and now Pirates' Kang. "DH" Lee is usually considered to be part of the 4 representative Korean batters along with Byung-ho Park. 
 
Asking around, it seems DH Lee was always considered to be the best hitter of the bunch, quite a bit ahead of Choo & Kang. (To be fair, Choo was a pitching prospect early in his career). 
 

WayBackVazquez

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An .816 OPS in the Pacific League for a 33 year-old doesn't strike me as having a high likelihood of success in MLB.
 
EDIT: I see that I was looking at 2014.
 

Tokyo Sox

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I saw him play a bit this year - two games in Fukuoka early in the season, and all 3 of the Japan Series games in Tokyo, and of course remember him and Bum Ho Lee well from the 2009 WBC.
 
He absolutely terrorized Yakult pitching all series, from the clips you posted above, and a bases-clearing double in Game 4, etc.  He had a great series and was absolutely the MVP.  That said just from my eyes and my small sample size, it's tough to agree with your assessment of "nimble."  "Lumbering" is a bit closer.  There were a few times where he just couldn't get to pretty catch-able foul balls.  SSS caveats all apply but I see him having to go to an AL team and be primarily a DH.
 
His slash line for 2015 was .282/.368/.524.  Strikeouts up each of the past 3 years.
 

Tokyo Sox

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SSF, I was at Korea vs Japan last night at the Tokyo Dome in the semi-finals of the WBSC Premier 12 tournament. Ohtani had a no-hitter through 6, with Lee getting beaned to be the only base runner in that time. Ohtani was electric, hitting 160 kph on the gun several times. The Koreans could not touch the heat, and he broke off a couple nice offspeed pitches too. Anyway, he lost the no-no in the 7th, and the relievers blew the game in the 9th with Lee hitting a bases-loaded double to put Korea up 4-3, which was the final. He was player of the game. The Korean fans were pretty quiet most of the game, with little to cheer for, but were loud & represented well once the comeback started. It was a pretty great W for them in enemy territory. Lee got a great cheer when he came off the field for a PR after his hit. The whole Japanese crowd was stunned.

Then on the way out I saw a guy with this t-shirt...couldn't have been more perfect (spoilered for size):

 

SeoulSoxFan

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SSF, I was at Korea vs Japan last night at the Tokyo Dome in the semi-finals of the WBSC Premier 12 tournament. Ohtani had a no-hitter through 6, with Lee getting beaned to be the only base runner in that time. Ohtani was electric, hitting 160 kph on the gun several times. ... The whole Japanese crowd was stunned.
I wish I was there, TS. The event was a huge deal in both here and in Japan. Obviously the Cubans aren't what they used to be and the USA squad is decidedly vanilla at best, but it was always tourney about Korea-Japan battle for me.

Ohtani is actually a two-way player, but a 20 year kid that effortlessly throws high 90's and a devastating forkball will have only one way to go. The kid was as electric as advertised. There is a common saying here that say "Korea was beat by Ohtani, but Japan was beat by Korea". That's really true.

I was shocked at the drop in quality from Ohtani to pretty much everyone else. Although Hirotoshi (39 saves) and Matsui (0.87 ERA!) had shut the powerful Korean lineup in the past, they were no match in the 9th.

Even though there's practically zero interest from the State-side, there were perhaps 4-5potential MLB hopefuls playing. Namely:

Ohtani (SP):
  • Dodgers almost signed him, when he told everyone not to draft him in the Japanese draft. Do we know when he can actually try to get to the majors?
Byung-ho Park (1B):
  • The future Minnesota Twin. Didn't have a great tournament, but the power and the frame is certainly there
Dae-ho Lee (DH):
  • The thread's namesake will get a nominal shot if he does leave a ton of Yen at the table to go to the majors, but you can't deny that he's clutch. Wish Sox will give him a shot as a potential DH. Personality matters just as much as talent for Asian players's success, IMHO, and Lee has it in spades
Ah-seop Sohn (LF/RF):
  • He hit .300+ for six straight years in the KLB, and had a lot of good contact in the tourney. Little power so not sure how much interest there'll be, but his team (Lotte) did announce that he'll be posted
Hyun-soo Kim (1B):
  • Besides Ohtani & Park, apparently MLB scouts were most interested in Kim than anyone else. 27 years old, he's won the KBL batting champ from 2008 to 2015 (not a typo) with the highest OBP. This guy's a hitting machine with very good LD rate and quick/strong wrists. If not Lee, the younger Kim would be a very, very intriguing option if DD ever ventured this way
Going back to the tourney, Korean were fairly peeved at a few tricks the Japanese organizers pulled. Namely, they changed the schedule to favor their team, appointed a Japanese ref as part of the crew (highly unusual to say the least), and apparently didn't permit the Korean broadcasters to use one of the (unused) booth. Instead, they set up an impromptu booth right in the middle of the crowd!

So the victory is absolutely sweet. Coming back against the Japanese is not a rare occurrence. In the Beijing Olympics, the highly favored Japanese were leading 2-1 in the semis and Korea came back in the 7th & 8th for a 7-2 victory.

Oh and my voice is still sore :)
 

SeoulSoxFan

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...and Hyun-soo Kim just rakes a fastball down the line for a 2-run scoring double, to get Korea head of USA 4-0 in the finals.

There were a lot of doubters whether Jung-ho Kang would succeed. And there's also no doubt that Kim has had a better career, at least in the KBL. One more thing about Kim is that I think he's old enough to be a straight out FA, without a posting fee.

Edit: oh, and as I type this future Twin Byung-ho Park succeeds Kim with a 3-run HR. 7-0 Korea. Park once hit 55 HRs in the KBL. The Korean major league is somewhere between AA and AAA, but 55 HRs is damn hard no matter how you slice it.
 

Granite Sox

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I was in Tokyo for business last fall and got to watch 3 of the Japan Series games, including the clincher. Lee stood out even to me in that short exposure and is certainly a very popular figure, and it's nice to see him have a moment like this.
 

SeoulSoxFan

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Updates on the number of Korean-born players currently in the majors. Things are looking up, after a generally quiet start. With the huge cultural and talent-level change, that was to be expected. Overall, I'm thrilled that things are turning around for these guys.

First up is Hyunsoo Kim of the Orioles. Some of you may remember that he was booed on opening day for refusing minor league assignment, even though he had a guaranteed contract. He's still behind Ricard and only getting spot duty as a pinch hitter, but he made the most of his rare start yesterday going 3-4 (collecting his first double) against the White Sox. Quick stats:
  • .600 (9/15) with .647 OBP / .667 SLG / 1.314 OPS
  • 0 HR / 1 RBI / 0.4 WAR
Showalter seems to be warming up to Kim finally, which could mean more appearances for the former Korean slugger (despite the high average, he has only gotten 15 at bats so far.) Kim's got a mean streak that many of the top Korean players have, and it's good to see him put the controversy behind him.

The oldest and the most popular (at least in Korea & Japan), Daeho Lee of the Mariners is getting more plate appearances with 25 AB:
  • .280 (7/25) with .333 OBP / .520 SLG / .853 OPS
  • 2 HR / 3 RBI / 0.3 WAR
He's starting to show some of his power, including this walk-off vs. Diekman's 97mph FB:


I didn't think he'll see the field much, but has started at 1B for 8 games with no errors (and to the comment above, Lee can outlap Panda anyday.) He's also becoming something of a fan favorite. They're playing the "Banana Boat Song" (Day O / Dae-Ho, heh heh) and has a new nickname, DHL. As his .294/.368/.647 vs. LHP split shows, he'll be a valuable platoon bat either as a DH or at 1B moving forward.

The most promising of the newcomers is Byungho Park of the Twins. He's getting regular starts at DH and at 1B, and is 3rd in AL HR race with 6 dingers already:
  • .227 (15/66) with .288 OBP / .561 SLG / .848 OPS
  • 6 HR / 8 RBI / 0.5 WAR
On a run-starved Twins lineup, he's been a welcome addition. Also in the early mentions for ROY. Some of his HRs have been monster shots (8th in HR distance in the AL):


What's puzzling is that he still hasn't got a hit off of a lefty, although a very SSS of 5 at bats. He's been terrific vs LHP in KBO (went .368 with 10 HR in just 95 AB in his last season in the Korean league). That number should rise.

The least known of the Korean "wave" of positional players is Jiman Choi of the Angels. Unlike the three older players (all 28+) mentioned above, Choi is just 24. He started his minor career with the Mariners way back in 2009, and after going through the Baltimore system he just made his major league debut with the Angels.:
  • .083 (1/12) with .353 OBP / .083 SLUG / .436 OPS
  • 0 HR / 0 RBI
He has been a decent bat throughout the minors though, including .290/.388/.406 slash line at AAA in 2015 before breaking his leg (LAA got him through the Rule 5 draft).

As for Shinsoo Choo, obviously the most well-known current Korean born player, got off a slow start for the Rangers and is on a 15-day DL with a strained right calf.
  • .188 (3/16) with .409 OBP / .188 SLG / .597 OPS
  • 0 HR / 1 RBI
He lost some weight during off-season and hope it pays off as he comes back from the injury. He did enjoy a bounce-back season of sorts in 2015, posting .276/.375/.463 in 149 games.

Another player coming back from injuries is Pirates' Jungho Kang, who shocked pretty much everyone by becoming a fixture in a potent Pittsburgh lineup (.287/.355/.461 in 421 AB with 15 HR). He's pretty close to returning to the majors. The projected date is in early May. He's currently knocking the rust off in AAA.

Out of everyone mentioned, the player contributing most to his new/old team is Seungwhan Oh, the former KBO and NPB saves leader (I really, really wanted the Sox to give him a go). Currently leading the Cards' pen with the following eye-opening stat line:
  • 1.38 ERA / 0.85 WHIP
  • 13.15 K/9 (19 in 13.0 IP)
Oh's been pretty much untouchable as he only let in runs once in 12 appearances. Watch this perfect 3-K inning:


Being a former closer, a lot of pundits in Korea predicted immediate success due to his mental makeup. His nickname in Korean is 돌부처, which literally translates to Stone-faced Buddha for his unflinching approach no matter the situation.

Overall, it's been incredibly exciting to see all of the Koreans do (relatively) well. Only regret is that the Sox do not feature any, even with the relationship it has with Nexen & KBO.
 

SeoulSoxFan

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Ryu Hyunjin's biggest domestic "rival" when both were starting out their pro careers, Korean pitcher Kim Kwanghyun signed with the Cards as a reliever.

As a two-pitch lefty with a 4-seamer in the mid-90's with a hard-slider in the mid-80's, he definitely has a chance to contribute from the pen. He's been pretty rock solid in high-leverage situations too. I think he's got the mental makeup to take on the tough transition to the majors.

Game against LG last year:

View: https://youtu.be/dDPgRnkt8q8


Thought he'd be a nice pickup for the Sox but will still be rooting for him for St. Louis.
 

SeoulSoxFan

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The former Astro & Ray Hank Conger has joined Lotte Giants as a battery coach. He has taught in the Mexican League last year after finishing out his major league career.

P. S. Conger's a full-blooded Korean (his father was adopted by a US Navy sergeant)
 

oumbi

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The former Astro & Ray Hank Conger has joined Lotte Giants as a battery coach. He has taught in the Mexican League last year after finishing out his major league career.

P. S. Conger's a full-blooded Korean (his father was adopted by a US Navy sergeant)
Let me pick a nit. I believe you mean either a US Army sergeant, or, a US Navy petty officer.
 

Tokyo Sox

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BUMP!

Kim Hasung hits a walk-off against Arizona:

One player I really wish Sox had traded for this off-season. Perhaps he could be on the market during the summer but he might be just too popular with the fans.
Incidentally the guy he hit it off of is Scott McGough, who was my local Tokyo Yakult Swallows closer for the last couple years. He was mostly very effective in his Japan career, but occasionally gave us reason to call him McUgh instead.

This thread was a fun re-read. Ahem:
Ohtani is actually a two-way player, but a 20 year kid that effortlessly throws high 90's and a devastating forkball will have only one way to go.