Saturday, February 4, 2017

WBC '17 Preview: Breaking Down Team Korea

South Korea's current roster features one current Major League player in the Cardinals' Oh, who is coming off an excellent rookie season in St. Louis. The bigger story, however, is the big leaguers who will be missing from Korea's roster. Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang was removed from the roster because of off-the-field issues. Orioles outfielder Hyun Soo Kim removed himself from consideration to focus on winning a starting job with Baltimore in Spring Training. The Rangers, meanwhile, have filed a formal request to tournament organizers to withhold Shin-Soo Choo from playing, out of concern for his injury history.
While Korea will lack Major League star power this time around, manager Kim In-Sik can still count on a wealth of KBO talent including All-Star starting pitchers Won-Jun Jang and Hyun-Jong Yang and 2016 KBO batting champion and RBI leader Hyung-Woo Choi.
How they've fared in the past
The South Koreans have twice come up just short at the Classic. In 2006, they were eliminated by Japan in the semifinals. Three years later, they made the finals but again fell to Japan in an extra-inning heartbreaker. In 2013, they were a surprise knockout in pool play, losing a tiebreaker with Chinese Taipei and the Netherlands.
What they should do well
On the mound, in addition to its KBO All-Star starters, Korea has seven relievers with KBO closing experience. But Oh's presence in particular should be a huge boost; he had 19 saves and a 1.92 ERA for St. Louis last season.
On offense, Choi (.376 average, 144 RBIs in the KBO last year) and former Mariners slugger Dae-ho Lee will still be tough outs for opposing pitchers. At age 37, Lee is searching for a Major League club in 2017, but he made the national team, according to Yonhap News. Lee has gone a combined 10-for-29 (.345) with seven RBIs over the last two Classics.
Where they could struggle
Even with Oh joining as a late addition, the pitching staff is thin. It's lost several pitchers to offseason surgeries, as Yonhap News reported. On the other side, Korea's offense will likely not be as deep as in years past without sluggers Choo, Kang and Hyun Soo Kim.
How far they could go
Korea has shown it can run with the other baseball powerhouses in the Classic. Even without some of their biggest stars, the South Koreans will be a co-favorite with the Netherlands to advance out of Pool A, and they could go even further. They've done it before.

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