Yang on course for Rookie of Year honor

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Yang on course for Rookie of Year honor

Doosan Bears catcher Yang Eui-ji has all but secured Rookie of the Year honors and now has his sights set on getting 20 home runs.

The 23-year-old is after what has only been accomplished three times in the history of the Korea Baseball Organization. Yang Joon-hyuk of the Samsung Lions was the first to win the award and hit at least 20 home runs in 1993 and Park Jae-hong of SK Wyverns did it in 1996 with 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases.

The last player to do so was first baseman Kim Tae-kyun of the Hanhwa Eagles in 2001.

Yang Eui-ji swatted two home runs against the Eagles Sunday ago to bring his season total to 18 and he’s already passed the single-season home run record for a rookie catcher set by Hong Sung-heun with 16 in 1999. This feat all but guarantees Yang of the top rookie honor because the closest rookie batter - Oh Ji-hwan of the LG Twins - has 13 home runs this season.

Yang had been reluctant to discuss his chances of receiving the Rookie of the Year trophy in the past but things changed after Sunday’s game.

“I want to be named the top rookie this year,” Yang said. “I’m also aiming to exceed 20 home runs for the season.”

The 20 home run mark is significant. In the KBO, an average of 10 or fewer players reach the 20 home run mark each season. So this is the standard that separates average batters from true sluggers. If Yang reaches the mark, he can further cement his case for the top rookie honor and earn a reputation as a power hitter in the process.

Yang was the Bears’ 59th overall selection in the 2006 KBO Amateur Draft. But with mandatory military duties, Yang did not get a shot at playing in the pros until this season. Having earned the starting catcher spot for his club early on in his rookie season, Yang has made a case for himself as a power hitting catcher.

He has been especially strong this month, hitting eight home runs in August and going five consecutive games with a home run at one point.

At his current pace, it’s only a matter of time before Yang reaches his goal of 20 home runs.

By Kim Dong-hwan [jason@joongang.co.kr]
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