Star outfielder vows to bounce back after injury-plagued season

INCHEON-- LG Twins outfielder Hong Chang-ki batted .286 with a .390 on-base percentage last season in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), rock solid numbers for most but not for the 29-year-old All-Star.

Compare those numbers with 2021, when Hong set career highs with a .328 batting average and the league-best .456 on-base percentage while playing in all 144 games. Hong earned his first Golden Glove, awarded to the best overall player at each position.

Hong was limited to 118 games in 2022 while dealing with an oblique injury. Speaking to reporters before leaving for the Twins' spring training site in Arizona on Monday, Hong said as long as he can stay healthy, he can duplicate his 2021 numbers and more.

"I am confident this year. I struggled last year because of injury," Hong said at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul. "I don't think I got the short end of the stick just because the strike zone got wider. I've been watching a lot of video from earlier games when I was healthy. I should be able to have a better season this year."

Hong will be playing in his third different outfield position in three seasons in 2023. He was the team's starting center fielder in 2021. But after the Twins signed Park Hae-min, a defensive whiz in center field, as a free agent, Park moved to right field. For this year, new manager Youm Kyoung-youb has already announced his new foreign hitter, Austin Dean, will take over in the right field, while Hong will be the new left fielder. Kim Hyun-soo, who has been patrolling the left field since 2018, will be mostly the designated hitter.

"I played quite a bit of left field when I was younger, so this doesn't really affect me," Hong said. "If that's the manager's plan, then I will obviously go along with it. We've always had a strong outfield, and the key for me is to stay healthy."

Hong said he hasn't set any statistical goals for himself in 2023 and added: "I will just try to play the entire season without getting hurt. I didn't play much last year, and I want to get into more games this year."

Hong is a classic late bloomer. He was drafted out of college in 2015 but only started getting regular playing time in 2020, in his age-27 season. Hong has since established himself as an on-base machine with great bat-to-ball skills, but he said he realized last year he still has a long way to go.

"I learned more last year than in seasons when I'd played better," Hong said. "I want to prove to people that my struggles last year were due to injury, not anything technical."

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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