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KBO veterans mix things up to keep their spot on the starting roster

Feb 12,2019
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Park Yong-taik, Bae Young-soo and Jeong Keun-woo
All 10 KBO teams have now headed overseas to start their preparation for the 2019 season, and the veterans are working harder than ever to make sure they still have a spot on the roster when the season begins next month.

When the Hanwha Eagles left for their spring training camp last month, infielder Jeong Keun-woo caused a stir when he packed five gloves, all for different positions. During his 20s, Jeong was considered one of the leagues’ best second baseman and has received two Golden Glove awards throughout his career.

However, as he aged, Jeong began slowing down, and in May 2018, he was sent down to the Futures League. As Jeong slowly lost his spot to younger, faster players, he began training to become a utility player. To be able to play and help the Eagles, Jeong started training outfield and at first base.

“I can’t say I’m tired,” Jeong said. “I need to do everything I can to help the team.”

While Jeong has managed to retain his spot on the Eagles’ roster as a utility player, three of the Eagles’ former pitchers - Shim Soo-chang, Bae Young-soo and Kwon Hyuk - are struggling to find their place at their new clubs.

Although Shim topped the saves ranking in the Futures League last season at 18, he only played three games in the KBO. Kwon only played in 16 KBO games last year as he struggled with back, elbow and thigh injuries, while Bae was excluded from the Eagles’ roster after the season. Right when all three players were on the verge of concluding their professional careers, they managed to sign with other clubs.

But they’re not the only veteran pitchers struggling to stay relevant. Former Samsung Lions pitcher Jang Won-sam was released by his club after the season and signed with the LG Twins. Both Jang and Shim will be competing for the fifth spot on the Twins’ starting rotation this season.

Bae and Kwon both signed with the Doosan Bears and are training in Okinawa, Japan. Although both veterans are used to playing in the starting spot, this season they will likely both have to give up that position and instead concentrate on helping the team in any way they can.

Some veterans have been given larger responsibilities this year. For a third straight season, Kia Tigers’ Kim Joo-chan has been selected as captain while the KT Wiz’s Yoo Han-joon has been newly selected as captain.

Rather than dropping him, the Twins chose to keep Park Yong-taik. At 40, Park, who is one of the oldest players in the KBO, extended his career by re-signing a two-year contract with the Twins at 2.5 billion won ($2.23 million).

“Even if I win MVP award, I’m going to retire after two years,” Park said. “Until then, I’m going to try my best to help the team.”

During the spring training camp, Park train for the outfielder position. Although he plays outfield, in the past few seasons Park played as the designated hitter to ensure he stayed fit enough to play the full season.

The Lions’ Park Han-yi will also continue his career by giving up his free agent status. Park will instead play his 19th season with the Lions.

BY PARK SO-YOUNG [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]