Rays’ Choi Ji-man leading S. Korean MLB contingent with hot early streak

SEOUL-- Tampa Bay Rays' first baseman Choi Ji-man has been the hottest South Korean player in the early days of the new major league season, coupling his patented on-base skills with power to put up gaudy numbers.

With Toronto Blue Jays' starter Ryu Hyun-jin sidelined due to left forearm inflammation, South Korean fans of big league baseball are left with three position players to follow: Choi joined by San Diego Padres' infielder Kim Ha-seong and Pittsburgh Pirates' utility man Park Hoy-jun.

Choi is the most experienced of the trio, now in his seventh major league season, and has also been the most productive and consistent of the bunch.

By going 1-for-4 against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field in Chicago on Monday (local time), Choi has reached base safely in all 10 games he has played this season.

He had an RBI and struck out twice. He boasts an impressive .423/.571/.769 line with two homers and eight RBIs. He leads the majors in on-base percentage and is fifth in on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS).

Long known for a discerning eye at the plate, Choi has drawn nine walks and has been intentionally walked once, too.

Though Choi, who bats left-handed, is still being platooned against left-handed pitchers, his strong start to this season is certainly encouraging after an injury-plagued 2021 campaign, in which he only played in 83 out of 162 games.

Kim contributed to his team's 4-1 win over the Cincinnati Reds with an RBI single in the fourth. He is batting .238/.360/.333, with zero homers and two RBIs after playing eight of the Padres' 12 games so far.

With regular shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. out with a wrist injury, Kim was expected to get a bulk of opportunities to play that position early on. Kim had been an All-Star shortstop in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) for the Kiwoom Heroes but bounced between shortstop, second base and third base in his first season with the Padres in 2021.

So far this year, Kim has spent most of his time at shortstop with a couple of cameo appearances at the hot corner.

Kim has made five starts at shortstop, and the Padres' hot-shot prospect, C.J. Abrams, has done so a half-dozen times. Abrams, who didn't play Monday, is only batting .115/.233/.231, after turning heads in spring training with a .324/.359/.514 line.

Kim had been a far better hitter in the KBO than what he has shown so far in the majors, even accounting for the different levels of pitching between the two leagues. Kim flashed his defensive skills last year and has acquitted himself well so far this year, though the Padres, stuck in the middle of the pack in team OPS, would like to see more offensive production from Kim.

Park was benched in the Pirates' 5-3 win over the Washington Nationals on Monday. He made the Opening Day roster for the first time this year but has appeared in only four out of Pittsburgh's nine games so far. He is batting .182/.250/.182 with no homers and two RBIs. He has struck out five times in 11 at-bats while drawing only one walk.

Park played all over the field last year after joining the Pirates in a July trade from the New York Yankees, checking in at second base, third base, shortstop and all three outfield positions. That trend has held this year, as he has appeared at second base, third base and right field so far.

Park, 26, has left much to be desired at the plate but the rebuilding Pirates won't complain about his defensive versatility.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

You may also like...