Tigers’ new foreign players prepare for season

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Tigers’ new foreign players prepare for season

After failing to defend their Korean baseball championship in 2018, the Kia Tigers did some house cleaning and replaced all three of their foreign players.


From left: Jacob Turner, Jeremy Hazelbaker and Joe Wieland

They were one of the two teams in the KBO, along with the last-place NC Dinos, to sign three new imports this offseason. And the new faces for the Tigers - outfielder Jeremy Hazelbaker and pitchers Jacob Turner and Joe Wieland - said they’re ready to write a new chapter in their careers.

Hazelbaker, 31, will replace Roger Bernadina, who batted .310 with 20 homers, 70 RBIs and 32 steals in 2018. The year before that, Bernadina hit .320 with 27 homers, 111 RBIs and 32 steals, and had a strong Korean Series to help the Tigers win their first title since 2009.

Bernadina, who patrolled center field, was one of the KBO’s most productive leadoff hitters, and Hazelbaker said he’s ready to step right in for the departed star.

“[Playing center field and batting leadoff] are both things I’ve done before in the big leagues, and I’ve had success,” Hazelbaker said Thursday before departing for Okinawa, Japan, the site of the Tigers’ spring training. “I feel like, whatever the organization wants, I am ready for it. Whether it’s offensively or defensively, whatever I can, it’s my goal to help this team out.”

Some players in the recent past, notably infielder Eric Thames and pitcher Merrill Kelly, have signed with big league clubs after a successful run in the KBO. When asked whether he wanted to follow in their footsteps, Hazelbaker said he won’t look beyond 2019.

“My goal is just to play well this year and see what happens,” he said. “I don’t have any plans for the future. If things work out here, I love it here and the team loves me here, I feel like I can stay here and play - right now, the goal is to perform well this year.”

On the mound, Turner and Wieland, both right-handers, are going to take over from former 20-game winner Hector Noesi and left-hander Pat Dean.

Turner, who has pitched in 102 major league games, including five appearances in 2018, said coming to the KBO was “a good opportunity for me to continue to get better as a player.”

“I am just excited to do something new and experience something new,” the 27-year-old said. “I’ll just try to attack the hitter. My biggest focus is to be aggressive. Obviously, I am confident. I wouldn’t be playing baseball if I wasn’t confident in what I was doing.”

Wielend, 29, last pitched in the majors in 2016. He spent the past two seasons with the Yokohama DeNA BayStars in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) and was a combined 14 wins and 11 losses with a 3.80 ERA in 37 starts, covering 225 innings.

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