Don’t hasten to write Lee offPopeyes have been retracted, blood pressure is restored and the dust is settled now that the World Baseball Classic is over. The media here has praised the performance of the participating ball players fairly. However, quick analysis done in haste also predicted that some of Korea’s ball players would be major league bound.
The few names that surfaced were Oh Seung-hwan, the closer who posted a 0.00 ERA in the four games he pitched and Park Jin-man, the shortstop who absorbed plays coming his way in a fluid jaw-dropping fashion.
Then there was the talk on Lee Seung-yeop, a.k.a the "Lion King."
Lee tried to play in the major leagues two seasons ago after setting the home run record in a single season here with 56. Nevertheless, interest was low. The only legitimate offer came from the Los Angeles Dodgers but it wasn't anything that Lee thought would make up for his star status here.
He decided to go to Japan hoping a success there would propel him to the majors, but his first season was a disaster.
In his first season with the Chiba Lotte Marines, he had only 14 home runs and a paltry .240 batting average. Many then wrote him off, saying Lee was only good for the domestic league playing level.
I based my judgment on the fact that Lee is a tough student of the game and has the ability to adjust. Last season, Lee hit 30 home runs and had a .260 batting average while working out of a platoon system at first base.
This season, he signed a one-year contract with the Yomiuri Giants and the main reason he went there for less money than what he was offered by the Marines was because he thought he had a shot at playing the first base permanently. Lee wants to be judged not only for his bat but also for his glove when he tries again for the majors. I think he will keep up his playing level and improve this season.
The same reason for his success in Japan should also help in the majors if he gets the call. He is a patient guy at the plate and covers both sides of it well with tremendously soft hands. He tries to avoid using his arm and instead uses his hands and his lower body. His shoulders are locked in for most of the time and coupled with his quick hands, he is able to deliver power even when he is initially fooled by a pitch.
Nevertheless, his position as first base might be something that could hinder his trip to the big show. The RBI men usually are penciled in by the manager at the third, fourth and fifth spot. The first basemen often occupy those spots in major league lineups and that calls for great run producers, of which there are already plenty. Lee has to convince teams that he can be that guy and that is a steep wall to climb.
I believe once in the show, he has the patience to adjust well but another platoon system or a designated hitter role would do him no good since he needs to get the at-bats to familiarize himself with the pitchers in the major leagues.
If Lee had a trademark as a defensive guy, he could be used deeper in the lineup or if he had the legs, as a lead off hitter. The problem with that is that defensive guys are pulled from the game when their team is falling behind, taking away the number of at-bats that are necessary for Lee to get adjusted. As it stands, Lee will have to put up numbers this season in the neighborhood of 40 home runs and a batting average above .280 to warrant some interest.
It’s something I think he can do.
by Brian Lee
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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