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Korean players in the major leagues had a mixed 2018

Oct 02,2018
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From left: Choo Shin-soo of the Texas Rangers hits a single during a game against the Seattle Mariners on Sept. 21. Choi Ji-man of the Milwaukee Brewers hits a home run against the Texas Rangers on Sept. 17. Kang Jung-ho of the Pittsburgh Pirates hits a single during a game against the Cincinnati Reds on Friday. [REUTERS/YONHAP, AP/YONHAP]
Three Korean position players who saw action in Major League Baseball (MLB) this year had mixed seasons. A veteran came down to earth after an outstanding start to the season, while a longtime minor leaguer made the most of the opportunity he got with a new big league team. An infielder who has had troubles off the field in recent years showed a glimpse of what once made him a solid everyday player.

Choo Shin-soo of the Texas Rangers had a strong first half before fading away badly in the second half of the season. The 36-year-old veteran in his 14th year in the big leagues was named to his first All-Star team in July and put together a 52-game on-base streak, the longest by an active major leaguer, from mid May to late July.

Before playing in his first All-Star Game, Choo was batting .293/.405/.506 with 18 home runs and 43 RBIs in 90 games. He was just four homers shy of setting a new career high and it seemed only a matter of time before he could do that.

Instead, Choo managed to hit homers only three times over his final 56 games, while batting .217/.329/.309 in that span.

Choo went 1-for-3 in the season finale against the Seattle Mariners in Seattle on Sunday, and he batted only .178 (13-for-73) in September with zero homers.

This was Choo’s fifth year of a seven-year, $130 million contract. When they signed him, the Rangers were hoping they would get the 2013 version of Choo for at least the early portion of the deal. As a leadoff man for the Cincinnati Reds in 2013, Choo scored 107 runs, drew 112 walks and posted a .423 on-base percentage while also hitting 21 homers and stealing 20 bases.

Choo never matched those numbers in any of his Texas seasons, though 92 walks and a .377 on-base percentage this year are his best as a Ranger.

Choo was subject to some trade rumors this year, though his massive contract will likely deter clubs from going after the 36-year-old, who is now a defensive liability. He only appeared in the outfield in 59 games this year and served as a designated hitter the rest of the time.

Choo, having played in 10 full seasons and the past five in a row with one team, now has the right to veto any trade.

Utility man Choi Ji-man enjoyed the best stretch of his young big league career after joining the Tampa Bay Rays in a midseason trade from the Milwaukee Brewers.

Choi made the Brewers’ Opening Day roster and even doubled in the first game of the season. But he was sent down to the minors the next day and only made 11 more appearances with the Brewers before getting dealt to the Rays in June.

Choi was called up by the Rays on July 10 and never got demoted again the rest of the season.

The 27-year-old journeyman, who has spent a big chunk of his professional career in the minors and has played in the majors for the Los Angeles Angels and the New York Yankees, finally seemed to have found his home with Tampa Bay. In 49 games as a Ray, Choi batted .269/.370/.506 with eight home runs and 27 RBIs.

Choi enjoyed his most memorable moment in a Tampa Bay uniform on Sept. 11, when he smacked a two-run, walk-off home run off Brad Hand of the Cleveland Indians in the bottom of the ninth inning at Tropicana Field. That 6-5 win was the Rays’ 12th consecutive win at home, and the homer was Choi’s first career shot against a left-handed pitcher.

Choi was hitting .270 with five long balls in September when he was hurt in a home plate collision with New York Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez on Sept. 25. Choi was held out of the season’s final five games.

In the National League, Pittsburgh Pirates’ infielder Kang Jung-ho returned to the majors for the first time in two years, and went 2-for-6 in three games during the team’s final regular season series against the Reds.

Kang missed the entire 2017 season and most of this year because of legal trouble in Seoul and injury. Kang received a suspended jail term in March 2017, three months after getting charged with fleeing the scene of an accident after driving under the influence of alcohol. Kang was also denied a U.S. visa, which prevented him from traveling to the United States and joining the Pirates.

He finally got his work permit in April this year and started playing some minor league ball in June. Then Kang came down with a left wrist injury later that month, and it required surgery on Aug. 3, which threatened to end his comeback bid.

But the Pirates activated him just in time for the series against the Reds. Kang got a pinch-hit single in the first game of the series on Friday and went 1-for-4 in a start the next day.

He ended his abbreviated season by going 0-for-1 as a pinch hitter on Sunday, and will head into an offseason of uncertainty.

His four-year, $11 million deal expired with the conclusion of the regular season. The Pirates have a $5.5 million team option, or a $250,000 buyout, for 2019. They may decline that option and attempt to sign Kang to a cheaper deal as a free agent.

Yonhap