World Baseball Classic Preview: South Korea

As the World Baseball Classic draws closer, we begin our series of previews with South Korea.

Back in 2013, South Korea played against Chinese Taipei, Netherlands, and Australia in pool play. Since three teams went 2-1, the run differentials were tallied to determine who advanced, sending Chinese Taipei and Netherlands on while eliminating South Korea. However, since they finished third in pool play, they received automatic qualification for this year's tournament.

Key Players

Dae-Ho Lee: The big 34-year-old is looking to use his bat to help guide Team Korea through this year's classic. One of only two players on the team to spend 2016 in the MLB, Lee hit .253/.312/.428 in 104 games with the Seattle Mariners with 14 home runs and 49 runs batted in. Though he is currently without a team for the 2017 season, Korea will be happy to have his services.

Hyung-Woo Choi: Like Lee, Choi has a big bat and he's not afraid to use it. A 2016 KBO All-Star and MVP-Runner Up, Choi hit an eye-popping .376/.470/.651 with 31 home runs and 144 runs batted in. If the stats aren't telling enough, he became the highest paid player in KBO history this offseason. Look for him to be a key cog to Korea's offensive output.

Seung-Hwan Oh: Oh is the only other player on the roster besides Dae-Ho Lee to play in the MLB in 2016. In 76 appearances, Oh sat down 11.9 batters per nine innings and accumulated 19 saves while earning himself a minuscule 1.92 earned run average. Might be worth mentioning that it was also his first MLB season in 2016. Look for Oh to be a frequent contributor out of the bullpen for Korea.

Underrated Players

Won-Jun Jang: Though one of the weaknesses for Korea is their starting rotation, Jang is one that stands out from the pack. In his 2016 All-Star season, he pitched his way to a 15-6 record with a 3.32 earned run average. Also worth noting is his only allowing a WHIP of 1.42. Look for Jang to be the likely ace for South Korea.

Hyun-Jong Yang: Another 2016 KBO All-Star, one may be fooled by his 10-12 record. In 31 starts, he pitched his way to a 3.68 earned run average while only allowing 1.34 walks/hits per inning pitched. He also struck out 146 batters. He will also need to be effective out of the starting rotation in order to ensure success beyond pool play.

Roster

Pitchers: Woochan Cha, Won Jun Chang, Shiwan Jang, Hyunseung Lee, Changyong Lim, Jung Woo Lim, Seung-Hwan Oh, Heesoo Park, Dae-Eun Rhee, Chang Min Sim, Jonghyun Won, Kyu Min Woo, Hyeonjong Yang

Catchers: Taegun Kim, Euiji Yang

Infielders: Kyoungmin Hur, Haseong Kim, Jaeho Kim, Tae Kyun Kim, Dae-Ho Lee, Jaewon Oh, Geonchang Seo

Outfielders: Hyoungwoo Choi, Youngkyu Lee, Byunghun Min, Kunwoo Park, Ah-seop Son

Expectations

With the amount of KBO All-Star talent on the roster as well as Lee and Oh, South Korea is considered a favorite to win Pool A. Israel, Netherlands, and Chinese Taipei are all pretty solid teams, and if they were all in different pools they would all be able to contend. But Pool A this year is swamped, and the team best equipped to emerge from the fog is South Korea.

Once they're out of pool play, everything is fair game. While they didn't advance from pool play in 2013, South Korea advanced to the Semi-finals in 2006 and all the way to the championship game in 2009. This team has a solid chance to contend, but with the loaded rosters for the Dominican Republic, Canada, and United States, taking home the trophy will be quite a challenge.


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