Teams back home plate with some heavy hitters

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Teams back home plate with some heavy hitters

The third World Baseball Classic may become a battle of the catchers.

Many of the 16 teams in the World Baseball Classic main competition boast catchers equipped with powerful batting skills.

Kang Min-ho of the Lotte Giants is Team Korea manager Ryu Joong-il’s choice. Kang, 27, led the other catchers in the Korea Baseball Organization last season with 19 homers and 66 RBI. His batting percentage was 0.273.

He was a member of the gold medalist team at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and played the second edition of the World Baseball Classic in 2009, when Korea was the runner-up. He had long been considered for the main catcher position for the third WBC.

At an exhibition game with the NC Dinos on Feb. 23, he hit a solo homer, the team’s first since it began training.

Japan gave the role to Shinnosuke Abe, 33, of the Yomiuri Giants. Abe is the team captain and led the Japanese league last season in batting percentage with 0.340, and had 104 RBI. He also had 27 home runs last year, his 12th consecutive year in the double digits. He struggled in recent exhibition games for the WBC, but Koji Yamamoto, Team Japan’s manager, doesn’t appear to have lost the faith.

Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins is the catcher for Team U.S.A. The 29-year-old is the only catcher in Major League history to win the batting title three times (in 2006, 2008 and 2009). He became the only catcher to ever win the title in the American League in 2006. He also won the Gold Glove awards for three consecutive years through 2010 and is the 2009 American League Most Valuable player.

Last year, he went 0.316, with 10 homers and 85 RBI. He led the AL league in on-base percentage, with 0.416, last season. His career on-base percentage is 0.405. Three Latin American teams - Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela - also boast big-time catchers.

Yadier Molina, a catcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, leads Team Puerto Rico. Molina, 30, has won the Gold Glove awards five straight times through last season.

He has long been known for his defensive ability, throwing out 45 percent of stolen bases attempted since the launch of his career in 2004. He’s also a slugger and hit more than 20 homers last year. His career batting average is 0.279.

Carlos Santana of the Cleveland Indians is a catcher for the Dominican team. The 26-year-old had 18 homers and 76 RBI last season.

Venezuela is expected to use Salvatore Perez, 22, as its main catcher. The Kansas City catcher went 0.301 with 11 homers last year.

“Like in many international events, catchers at the World Baseball Classic require defense ability, especially the ability to catch balls from a variety of pitchers,” said Song Jae-woo, a Major League expert who’s a main commentator for JTBC. “But, we need to take notice that there are many catchers like Mauer who are equipped with both defensive and offensive skills.”

By Bae Joong-hyun, Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]

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