[BASEBALL]Korean sluggers prepare for initial World Classic

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[BASEBALL]Korean sluggers prepare for initial World Classic

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With banks of snow still on street corners, and Christmas carols drifting from P.A. systems at shopping malls around the nation, baseball is usually the furthest sport from people’s minds at this time of the year.
Not this winter.
Last week, the provisional Korean roster of 60 players for March’s inaugural World Baseball Classic was announced. The final roster of 30 players ― with a minimum of 13 pitchers and three catchers ― will be decided in January.
Major League Baseball and its players’ association created this tournament, which has invited 16 nations and divided them into four groups of four. To sum up, the idea behind the tournament is: a) pitting the best ball players in the world against each other in a World Cup-like setting (the official, ostensible reason), and b) raking in fees for extra television broadcasting rights prior to the MLB season (the unofficial, more credible one).
Cynicism aside, this tournament promises to present a compelling display of baseball. After all, when was the last time the top major leaguers played for their respective countries? The Summer Olympics? The Olympics overlap with the heart of major league seasons, and the sport has now been dropped from the 2012 Olympics anyway.
Korea is grouped with regional rivals Japan, China and Chinese Taipei in Pool A. The round-robin format of the opening round will have Korea play them each once, and the top two teams from each pool will advance to the next round. The eight teams will be split into two pools, where they will again play a round-robin format of games. The top two teams emerging from that round will move on to the elimination semi-final games. And so on.
Korea should make it out of the first round; on paper, Japan appears the only superior squad in the pool. With that in mind, here’s what the final Korean lineup should be ― taking into account a balance of power, speed, defense and experience.
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Pitchers:
All but one of six Koreans who played in the majors full time last season are pitchers, and it’s a no-brainer that barring injuries, all of them should be named to the team.
Park Chan-ho, Seo Jae-weong and Kim Sun-woo should start. Koo Dae-sung was a reliever with the New York Mets, and he hasn’t started for so long that it would be tough to put him back in the starting rotation. Kim Byung-hyun prefers to close, so let him.
That leaves eight spots, possibly one more starter, and seven relievers. There will be a limited number of pitches for pitchers during the tournament ― most likely 60 for starters ― to prevent possible injuries prior to their respective seasons, and that means the usual starting pitchers will be asked to play relief duties at times.
Of the homegrown talent, reigning Korean baseball MVP Son Min-han would be fit for a No. 4 starter. Durable and consistent hurlers like Bae Young-soo, Park Myung-hwan and Moon Dong-hwan could come in mid games. Top closer Jung Jae-hoon, rookie sensation Oh Seung-hwan, his Samsung Lions teammate Kwon Oh-joon, and fireballer Lee Seung-ho round out the 13.
Catchers:
Park Kyung-wan is the most versatile catcher, and Cho In-sung provides defensive insurance off the bench. Hong Seong-heun can provide some pop as a pinch hitter.
Infielders:
Lee Seung-yeop is coming off an excellent season in Japan, but Choi Hee-seop has faced major league pitching and is a defensive upgrade. Either of them could be a designated hitter.
Park Jong-ho, a great contact hitter, gets the nod at second over Ahn Kyung-hyun. And if he can recover from knee trouble, Kim Dong-joo should be the starting third baseman. If not, an emerging power hitter Lee Beom-ho is the next best option at the hot corner.
Park Jin-man is the best all-around shortstop in Korea, end of discussion.
Outfielders:
The Korean team gets more speed and defense than power from the infield, but the group of outfielders from the 60-man roster doesn’t exactly instill fear into the minds of opposing pitchers either.
Choo Sin-soo, who played sporadically with the Seattle Mariners, has a nice blend of mid-range power and a strong throwing arm, but he is not a prototypical home run hitter. Song Ji-man had the most home runs last season among the outfielders in this roster, but is a defensive liability.
Park Yong-taek was the steals leader and hit 15 home runs. In a short tournament like this, his power and speed in the leadoff spot can get the offense going.
KBO batting champ Lee Byung-kyu obviously can hit, but offers little else. Park Jae-hong gets on base more often, and has more power and speed. Lee Jong-beom is a risky choice because his skills have apparently declined, and the more consistent Lee Jin-young should be ahead of him.


Possible lineup for the World Baseball Classic
Batting order:
1. Park Yong-taek (CF)
2. Park Jong-ho (2B)
3. Lee Seung-yeop (1B)
4. Choi Hee-seop (DH)
5. Park Jae-hong (LF)
6. Kim Dong-joo (3B)
7. Choo Sin-soo (RF)
8. Park Kyung-wan (C)
9. Park Jin-man (SS)
Bench: Lee Jin-young (OF), Hong Seong-heun (C), Lee Beom-ho (3B), Cho In-sung (C), Song Ji-man (OF), Ahn Kyung-hyun (2B), Kim Han-soo (1B), Jung Soo-keun (OF)
Starters: Park Chan-ho, Seo Jae-weong, Kim Sun-woo, Son Min-han
Relievers: Bae Young-soo, Park Myung-hwan, Moon Dong-hwan, Kwon Oh-joon, Koo Dae-sung, Lee Seung-ho, Jung Jae-hoon, Oh Seung-hwan
Closer: Kim Byung-hyun


by Yoo Jee-ho
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