Korea release 24-man Olympic Qualifier Roster

March 5th, 2008

The Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) and Korea Baseball Association (KBA) announced the final 24 members to play in the upcoming Beijing Olympics qualifying tournament, headlined by power hitters Seung-yeop Lee of the Yomiuri Giants, Dae-ho Lee of the Lotte Giants and Dong-joo Kim of the Doosan Bears.

Along with the trio of power hitters, players include former Major Leaguer Sun-woo Kim, who signed with the Bears in January; Hanwha Eagles lefty Hyun-jin Ryu who combined for 35 wins the last two seasons; and Lotte Giants veteran right-hander Min-han Son, who has recorded 85 victories in his 10-year KBO career.

However, manager Kim Kyung-moon (Doosan Bears)’s penchant for experience over base running removed Keun-woo Jung of the SK Wyverns, Byung-hyun Min of the Bears and Dae-hyun Lee of the LG Twins, who combined for 107 stolen bases in the KBO last season, from the roster.

In addition, the quartet of the Bears’ Tae-hoon Lim, the Woori Heroes’ Yong-hoon Cho, the Lotte Giants’ Won-joon Jang and the Eagles’ Young-myung Ahn, who were expected to be used as relief pitchers, also failed to make the national team, which reached the quarterfinals of the World Baseball Classic (WBC) two years ago.

Giants catcher Min-ho Kang also was also left off the roster.

Seung-yup Lee, 31, plays for the Yomiuri Giants in Japan. Lee was in spring training with the Cubs back in 2002 and with the Marlins in 2003, but never signed a major league contract. Instead, Lee went on to set the single-season home run mark for an Asian professional league with 56 home runs in the KBO in 2003. Lee had previously set the KBO single-season home run record in 1999 with 54 homers, and collected five MVP awards in the KBO before moving to Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball in 2004. Lee was a key member of South Korea’s 2006 World Baseball Classic team, hitting five home runs in the team’s first six games en route to a 6-0 start.

Dae-ho Lee, 25, is an imposing 6-foot-3, 265 pounds and won the KBO Triple Crown in 2006, hitting .336 with 26 homers and 88 RBIs, and capped it off by winning a gold glove. Lee led the KBO in slugging last year, batting .335/.453/.600 with 29 home runs and won his second straight gold glove.

Dong-joo Kim, who won the KBO gold glove at third base in 2007, hit .332/.457/.534 with 19 home runs last year for the Doosan Bears and led the KBO in on-base percentage.

20-year-old lefthander Hyun-Jin Ryu, who in 2006 became the first player in Korea Baseball Organization history to win the league’s rookie of the year award and be the MVP in the same season. Ryu also won a gold glove that year, finishing with 204 strikeouts in 201 2/3 innings and a 2.23 ERA for the Hanwha Eagles. Last year, Ryu led the KBO with 178 strikeouts and had a 2.94 ERA in 211 innings.

Sun-Woo Kim, who pitched in the Giants’ system last year at Triple-A Fresno, will pitch for South Korea. Kim, who signed with the Doosan Bears of the Korean Baseball Organization earlier this year, had a 4.87 ERA in 118 1/3 innings last year. Kim last pitched in the majors in 2006, appearing in six games for the Rockies and two more for the Reds.

There are some questions about Korea Roster, manager Kim is not sure who will be his closer, and the middle infield defense is another issue.

He did know who will be on the starting rotation; Hyun-jin Ryu is starting against Australia and Taiwan, considered the most critical outings in the schedule. So does the Former San Francisco Giant Sun-woo Kim, SK Wyverns lefty Kwang-hyun Kim and Lotte Giants Min-han Son.

The lack of bullpen depth is alarming considering the length of the series and that, aside of Ryu and Son, none of starters have a reputation for working into the late innings. Sun-woo spent the larger part of his career as a reliever and the 20-year-old Kwang-hyun is not even established in the regular rotation of the Wyverns yet.

Kim is struggling to replace Samsung Lions closer Seung-hwan Oh, a mainstay with the national team in the past few years who is unavailable due to an elbow injury. Bears reliever Tae-hoon Im is a candidate, although he might be too much of a gamble as an inexperienced 20-year-old.

Wyverns veteran reliever Dae-hyun Chung could be a better option, but Kim has been concerned about his poor form in the practice matches. Chung, a soft-throwing submariner, has never been known as a strikeout artist, and that could be a problem in the late innings considering the compromised infield defense.

Lions shortstop Jin-man Park, whose range and glove work are irreplaceable, hasn’t been able to participate in defensive drills due to a bum shoulder and is questionable for the tournament. Si-hun Son, currently with the Korean army baseball team, is considered as an alternative option.

Korea will play its first game of the qualifier against South Africa on Friday, then plays Australia on Saturday, Mexico on Sunday, Spain next Monday, Germany on March 12, Canada on the 13th and host Taiwan on the 15th. The tournament will feature eight teams; include Australia, Canada, Germany Mexico, South Africa, Spain and Taiwan, fighting for three final slots in the Beijing Games.

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