As teams begin to take shape for the upcoming World Baseball Classic, one team has already finalized their roster. The Korean Baseball Organization released the 28-man roster belonging to South Korea, headlined by four major leaguers.
Team South Korea is the first to finalize their roster, as most teams have only released the 50-man preliminary roster. Major Leaguers joining the team are outfielders Shin-Soo Choo and Hyun Soo Kim, as well as infielders Jung Ho Kang and Dae-Ho Lee. The team has had success in the WBC, as they finished third in 2006, and made it to the finals in 2009. However, their run ended prematurely in 2013 when they were eliminated in pool play by a run differential tie-breaker.
The roster is full of talent and has put Team South Korea among the favorites in the 16-team field. Along with the four major leaguers on the team, there are many players that baseball fans should get to know in preparation for the tournament.
Shin-Soo Choo, right fielder for the Texas Rangers, will be playing in his second WBC. He played in seven games for South Korea in 2009, contributing two big home runs late in the tournament. A three-run homer against Venezuela in the semifinals and a solo shot against Japan in the finals made fans overlook his .188 average he posted throughout the tournament.
Sharing the outfield with Choo is Baltimore Orioles’ Hyun Soo Kim. In his first season stateside, Kim played in 95 games for the Orioles. He batted .302 with six homers, making the most of his utility role. Kim is a two-time WBC veteran, playing in both the 2009 and 2013 tournaments. He is a combined 14-40 in the classic with six RBI.
Also playing in his third consecutive tournament is the first baseman and designated hitter Dae-Ho Lee, who played his first season in the major leagues with the Seattle Mariners. Lee has a .345 average across the two tournaments and should provide a powerful bat in the middle of South Korea’s lineup.
Finally, playing in his second straight classic is Pittsburgh Pirates’ infielder Jung Ho Kang. Kang put together a productive sophomore season after returning from what looked to be a possible career-ending injury in 2015. He hit .255 with 21 home runs in 103 games. Look for Kang at the top of the order when pool play begins.
Two notable major leaguers were left off of the roster, including Cardinals reliever Seung Hwan Oh and Twins first baseman Byung Ho Park. Oh was barred from playing in the tournament due to not serving a suspension for gambling with a former player in a casino. The KBO issued him the suspension despite the gambling having nothing to do with baseball, as the act of gambling is strictly forbidden in South Korea. Byung Ho Park, whose power impressed fans early in the season, underwent wrist surgery in August.
The MLB guys are not the only ones to look out for on Team South Korea, as scouts have had their eyes on a number of other players who are eligible and have shown interest in coming to the states next season. These include starting pitchers Kim Kwang-Hyun, Yang Hyeon-jong, Cha Woo-chan, and outfielder Choi Young-woo.
Seoul’s Gocheok Sky Dome will house the opening rounds of the tournament when pool play begins on March 6th, 2017. South Korea is in Pool A, where they will face Chinese Taipei, the Netherlands, and Israel.