One outfield spot left vacant by Lee Jung-hoo, competition heats up for $2 billion free agent

Competition in the outfield is fierce for the Kiwoom Heroes.

With Lee Jung-hoo (San Francisco Giants) out of the major leagues, Kium’s outfield features foreign player Donnie Lawson and Lee Joo-hyung, who made a splash after joining the team in a midseason trade last year. “There is competition for one outfield spot among Lee Hyung-jong, Lee Yong-kyu, and Park Soo-jong,” said Kium manager Hong Won-ki.

Dawson joined the team last July as a substitute outfielder. Kiwoom acquired Dawson from the American Independent League for the low cost of $85,000. In 57 games, Dawson proved to be an excellent value, batting .229 (77-for-36) with three home runs, 29 RBIs, and an OPS of .852. Kiwoom re-signed Dawson this year for a total of $600,000.

Lee Joo-hyung wore a Kiwoom uniform last year after being traded to LG in late July. Kiwoom sent starting pitcher Choi Won-tae to LG in exchange for Lee Joo-hyung, rookie pitcher Kim Dong-kyu, and a first-round pick in the 2024 rookie draft.

Lee Joo-hyung, who joined LG with the 13th overall pick in the second round of the 2020 rookie draft, was discharged from the military in February last year after completing his military service. Although his hitting talent was recognized in high school, he was not given many first-team opportunities in LG’s deep roster. After being traded to Kiwoom and given a starting role in the first team, Lee realized his potential. In 51 games with Kiwoom, he batted .911 with six home runs, 34 RBIs, 30 runs scored, three doubles, and an OPS of .911.

Competition for the left field spot to pair with Dawson in right and Lee in center is fierce. The team’s most experienced players include Yong-kyu Lee (39), Futures free agent Lee Hyung-jong, and Park Soo-jong, who made a surprise appearance as a developmental player.

Lee Yong-kyu is in his 21st professional season, which could be his last. He joined LG in 2004 and spent his prime with Kia and Hanwha before donning a Kiwoom uniform for the 2021 season. After being released as part of Hanwha’s rebuilding policy, Lee bounced back in 2021 with Kiwoom, hitting .765 with a 2-for-9, 6-RBI (136 hits in 459 at-bats) OPS in 133 games.

However, he struggled the next two years. In 2022, he batted just 1-for-9 in 86 games (54 RBI in 271 at-bats), and last year he was limited to 50 games with a wrist injury, batting just 2-for-36 (36 RBI in 154 at-bats). With his ability to make contact and mobility, it will be interesting to see if he can still be competitive.

Lee Hyung-jong is another player who is on the edge of his seat heading into this season. Lee became eligible for free agency in the Futures League after the 2022 season and left LG to sign a four-year, 2 billion won contract with Kiwoom. He earned 120 million won per year last year, 680 million won per year this year, and 600 million won per year in 2025 and 2026.

In the first year of his four-year, 2 billion won contract, Lee Hyung-jong failed to deliver. With guaranteed playing time, he was expected to regain his form from his time at LG, but he didn’t live up to expectations.

In 99 games in a Kiwoom uniform last year, Lee batted just 2-for-5 (68-for-316) with three home runs, 37 RBIs, 35 runs scored, and a .646 OPS. He was mostly demoted to the second team in August and September, and Sept. 10 was his last game with the first team.

“I was embarrassed. I was sorry and embarrassed. As soon as the season ended in October last year, I started preparing for this season,” he said, adding that he 안전놀이터 focused on off-season personal training more than ever. Lee Hyung-jong and Lee Yong-kyu even practiced together in Okinawa, Japan, in early January to keep their spirits up.

After graduating from Chung-Ango-Kyungsung University, Park went undrafted in the rookie draft and joined Kiwoom as a developmental player in 2022. After playing in the Futures League as a developmental player for two years, Park was called up to the first team in mid-July last year. After playing two games as a pinch-hitter and catcher without any at-bats, Park was sent down to the second team, but was given another chance to play with the first team during the September expansion roster.

Park made his debut on September 21 against the Gochuk NC, smacking a three-hit game, and went on to hit for the cycle in the next 11 games. From that first hit to the end of the season, Park hit safely in 11 of 13 games, batting .422 (19-for-45) with three home runs, seven RBIs, seven runs scored, a .533 slugging percentage, and a .993 OPS.

It’s a small sample size, but the hitting numbers stand out against teams in a late-season race. Park also has the defensive ability to play all outfield positions. Park is expected by Kiwoom fans to wear the number 14 jersey of Seo Gun-chang, who is a mythical player in the franchise.

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