Korean Players Making Their Mark in the MLB

Baseball is back! April is the month when the new KBO League 2021 season gets underway in South Korea. Fans of the Busan Lotte Giants will be hoping for a more successful campaign compared to 2020, when the team ranked seventh and missed out on the playoffs for the third season in a row.

The full KBO 2021 schedule for the Lotte Giants from April to October is available, with a two-week break this year for the Tokyo Olympics. Hopefully, this year the team will get the opportunity to extend that schedule, making it to the playoffs. That will be the primary objective, supported by a strong and competitive roster of players.

Meanwhile, the MLB 2021 campaign also begins in North America. As the reigning champions and heading into the first month of the season, Los Angeles Dodgers are favorites for the World Series this year at odds of 4.5 for the World Series with Betway, aiming to successfully defend their MLB title. However, no team has done that since the New York Yankees won three in a row, between 1998 and 2000.

No team enjoys more fame in baseball than the New York Yankees, along with being the most successful franchise in MLB history. They boast 40 World Series appearances and 23 of those were victorious, however, the Yankees haven’t clinched the title since 2009. That’s quite the drought for a team of such stature, although they are tipped at 11/2 odds to triumph this year.

Current Korean MLB Stars

Interestingly, while many foreign players have joined KBO League team rosters over the last couple of decades, many with previous MLB experience, only 23 players from South Korea have moved in the opposite direction. Just four of those Korean players are currently active with MLB teams, as the new 2021 season begins. They are established stars Ryu Hyun-jin and Choi Ji-man, joined in the last two seasons by Kim Kwang-hyun and Kim Ha-seong.

The longest-serving and most successful of those players is Ryu Hyun-jin, who originally hails from Incheon. Seven-times a KBO All-Star with the Hanwha Eagles, they accepted a massive $25.7 million bid from the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2013, making Ryu the first player to switch from the KBO to MLB via the posting system.

 

Despite struggling with injuries early in his Dodgers career, Ryu helped his team to win divisional titles during each of his seven seasons, reaching the World Series twice in 2017 and 2018. He also registered a season-leading ERA of 2.32 and was an MLB All-Star in 2019, before switching to the Toronto Blue Jays in 2020 on an $80 million four-year deal.

Also from Incheon originally, hitter Choi Ji-man has played the entirety of his professional career in the MLB. After starting out with the Los Angeles Angels in 2016, after spells with the New York Yankees and Milwaukee Brewers, Choi achieved his greatest success with the Tampa Bay Rays. In 2020 he became the first Korean to record a hit in the World Series.

MLB Experience on the Lotte Giants Roster

Our very own Lotte Giants in Busan currently includes three foreign players on the 2021 KBO roster, all of whom have MLB experience before switching to the KBO League. They are pitchers Dan Straily and recently acquired Enderson Franco, with the latter joining fellow countryman and infielder Dixon Machado.

The most notable of this trio is undoubtedly American pitcher Dan Straily, who played with five MLB clubs before signing with Lotte Giants in 2019. After topping the KBO League standings with 205 strikeouts last season and the second-highest 2.50 ERA, Straily agreed to another one-year deal with the Giants worth $1.2 million.

The only Korean player on the 2021 roster with previous MLB experience is Lee Dae-ho. After joining Lotte Giants as a rookie in 2001, Lee became one of the best players in the KBO League, winning the Triple Crown twice in 2006 and 2011. He also set a baseball world record in 2010, becoming the first professional player ever to hit nine consecutive home runs.

Success followed in the Japanese NPB with Orix Buffalos and Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, before the MLB opportunity finally arrived for Lee, joining the Seattle Mariners for just one season in 2016. Unfortunately, he didn’t enjoy the same kind of prominence in the MLB, before returning to the KBO with Lotte Giants in 2017. Now 38, and after extending his contract again, the vast experience of Lee will help the Giants remain ambitious.

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