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With 2018 draft decided, attention turns to 2019 prospects

Sept 20,2017
There’s still a year to go, but baseball fans are already looking forward to the 2019 Korea Baseball Organization rookie draft, which is expected to be unusually exciting as a number of minor leaguers will make their return to the league.

The recent 2018 rookie draft on Sept. 11 was dominated by high school graduates, as Kim Seon-gi was the only minor leaguer that qualified. During the try-outs, Kim seemed likely to be among the top picks by the KBO clubs, as he pitched a fastball at 146 kilometers per hour and showed great control in his curve, slider and fork balls. But despite expectations, Kim was drafted eighth by the Nexen Heroes.

Next year, however, the rookie draft is once again expected to be dominated by minor leaguers. There are already some big names causing excitement in the KBO that are expected to dominate the draft next year. Rhee Dae-eun, pitcher for the Police Baseball team, is the biggest of all.

While attending Shinil High School, Rhee signed a minor league contract with the Chicago Cubs in 2007. Starting in 2008, Rhee played seven seasons for the Cubs’ minor league team and picked up 40 wins and 37 losses with a 4.08 ERA.

Upon completion of the 2014 season Rhee continued his baseball career by signing a two-year contract with the Chiba Lotte Mariners of Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan. Though Rhee only managed to play in three games for the mariners last year, during the 2015 season he picked up nine wins and nine losses with a 3.84 ERA.

Rhee was selected for the Korean national team for the 2015 WBSC Premier12 in November of that year and went on to help the team win the tournament. This season, Rhee joined the Police Baseball team in the Futures League to fulfill his military duty and is ranked first in the league for strikeouts and second for ERA at 2.93.

“If he decides to be in the KBO rookie draft rather than going back to Japan, he will for sure be the first pick,” said a scout.

Among the infielders, Lee Hak-ju and Ha Jae-hoon are the two players likely to be the top picks. Just like Rhee, Lee also signed a minor league deal with the Cubs in 2008 while attending Chungam High School. Lee received a lot of attention at the time, as the Cubs signed Lee on a two-year contract for $1.15 million. From 2013, Lee played four seasons with the Cubs’ Triple A team and throughout his eight seasons in the minor leagues, Lee had a 0.269 batting average with 23 home runs and 209 RBIs. Rather than batting, Lee has shown strength in defense.

Ha also comes from seven years of experience with the Cubs’ minor league teams. In seven seasons, Ha played in a total of 627 game recording, recording a 0.265 batting average with 38 home runs and 288 RBIs. Ha had a 0.378 slugging average and a 0.312 on base percentage. Last year, Ha played in 17 games for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows.

Ha is likely to be among the top picks in the 2019 rookie draft. On paper, Ha appears to be better than some of the big names already in the KBO, including Na Kyung-min of the Lotte Giants. Since Ha is exempt from military duty clubs don’t have to worry about absence. He was originally scheduled to participate in the 2018 KBO rookie draft, but had to wait another year due to the KBO’s regulation that a player cannot join the rookie draft within two years of playing in the minor leagues.

As only half the KBO will progress to the postseason in a few weeks, the lower ranked teams are already looking to next season. Now that the 2018 rookie draft is out the way, the teams that missed out on their top picks will be watching potential candidates for the 2019 draft closely in the hopes of improving their chances in a couple of years.

BY BAE JUNG-HYUNE [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]