Giant Choi Joo-hwan goes to Kiwoom as No. 1 overall pick

There were no shortage of surprise moves in the second draft in four years. Outfielder Choi Ju-hwan, 35, was selected by Kiwoom with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 KBO Secondary Draft held behind closed doors on Feb. 22.

Choi, who was drafted by Doosan in the second round, 46th overall, in the 2006 rookie draft after graduating from Gwangju Dongseong High School, is a long-hitting player. In 2018, he hit 26 home runs, marking his first double-digit home run season.

Choi became a free agent for the first time in his career after the 2020 season, signing with SK (now SSG) for four years and up to 4.2 billion won. In 2021, his first year with the team, Choi hit 18 home runs and a .256 batting average. Last year, he hit just nine homers and a .211 batting average, but he rebounded this season with 20 homers (batting average of .235).

SSG, which won the wire-to-wire title last year, is in the midst of a major overhaul after an early exit from the semi-playoffs this year. In the process, Choi Joo-hwan was removed from the protected list. Kiwoom, which was facing problems at first base and designated hitter, signed Choi Joo-hwan. Choi Joo-hwan said, “I will adapt well as I am joining a new organization. Personally, next year is an important year for me, so I want to do well and achieve good results.”

Hanwha’s selection of SSG’s 1982-born veteran outfielder Kim Kang-min in the fourth round was also a surprise. Kim, who had a tough season due to nagging injuries, was at a crossroads, contemplating retirement from the game after SSG offered him coaching training. SSG decided that Kim was more likely to retire and removed him from the 35-man protected list ahead of the second draft. However, Hanwha, who needed an experienced player in the offense, chose Kim. “I have a relationship with Kim Kang-min when I was a pitching coach for SK, and I will meet him soon and convince him to come to Hanwha,” said Hanwha head coach Son Hyuk. It will be interesting to see if Kim will take on a new challenge by switching teams for the first time since his debut.

In addition to the two, SSG sent infielder Choi Hang to Lotte and pitcher Cho Sung-hoon to Kiwoom. Choi Hang is the younger brother of SSG center fielder Choi Jung.

LG, which won the overall title this year, lost three players in the first round alone. Hanwha selected LG pitcher Lee Sang-gyu with the second overall pick and Samsung selected LG pitcher Choi Sung-hoon with the third overall pick. Doosan selected LG catcher Kim Ki-yeon.

Based on the players drafted, LG, SSG, and NC filled the maximum number of spots with four players each. This was followed by KIA (3 players), Doosan and Kiwoom (2 players each), and Samsung and Hanwha-KT (1 player each).

This year’s second draft was held for the first time in four years. First implemented in 2011 and held every other year until 2019, the second draft was abolished in 2021 and then revived after two years due to the unpopularity of the Future Free Agent system. Ten teams drafted players in the third round in reverse order of their performance this season, with the bottom three teams having the opportunity to call up to two more players. The transfer fee for a player to his former team is 400 million won in the first round, 300 million won in the second round, and 200 million won in the third round.

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