Bong: Wasted in the Bullpen?

You've heard all of the Bong Jokes, now learn the facts. Should Jung Bong be in the bullpen, or is he better suited as a starter?

By now, you have probably heard all the jokes.

"Bong got lit up tonight." "Bong was really hit hard." "Bong is smoking on the mound tonight." Even Topps baseball Card Company got into the mix with the now infamous rookie card featuring Jung Bong and Brandon Puffer, or as it has become known in the baseball world: "The Bong Puffer Card."

Joke all you want, but don't forget this kid can pitch.

Signed out of Korea in 1997, Bong has an amazing change up that is complemented by his low 90s fastball. He also has a curve ball that needs to be developed a bit, but it could become the pitch that takes Bong to the next level. He has been criticized in the past for some minor command problems, but it appears that most of those have been worked out.

In 2001 at Myrtle Beach, Bong went 13-9 with a 3.00 ERA and 145 Ks in 168 innings of work.

Bong was called up last season to make an emergency start against Curt Schilling on April 23rd. Bong allowed 5 earned runs in 6 innings against Arizona. This may have had an effect on Bong's confidence. Upon returning to AA, he lost 6 straight starts and was demoted to the bull pen. He worked well out of the pen which allowed him to regain his control and confidence. In August, Bong was placed back in the starting rotation and went 3-1 with a 1.14 ERA in his final 5 starts. He finished 2002 with a 7-8 record despite his 3.25 ERA with 107 Ks in only 122 innings.

He tore up the Arizona Fall League this year going 3-1 with a 1.50 ERA, 23 strikeouts and 11 walks in 30 innings.

This season Bong is off to a nice start. His ERA is currently 2.70. In his first appearance of the year out of the bullpen, Bong gave up a couple of hits and then had Chipper Jones misplay a ball that allowed the runners to score. The play wasn't ruled an error and Bong was tagged with the runs. If Chipper had of come up with the ball Bong's numbers would look even better.

This raises the question? Should Bong be starting in AAA rather than relieving in the big leagues?

In a perfect world, the answer is yes. Bong projects as a solid three or four starter in the big leagues. However, there have been no indications out of the Braves organization that Bong isn't still thought of as a future starter. In the meantime, he is providing the Braves with a solid lefty out of an average bullpen. Hodges and Marquis are both higher on the depth chart to start than Bong, so he may have to wait until 2004 or 2005 to get his chance.

It's easy to make jokes about Jung Bong's name, but regardless of the role he settles into in the big leagues, he has the talent to make sure that opposing batters aren't laughing.

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