For a Korean team missing MLB luminaries such as Shin-Soo Choo, Hyun-Soo Kim, and Jung-Ho Kang, while offense will be at a premium, with the ability to generate runs without stringing together multiple hits being a truly invaluable skill in a tournament. While Hyung-Woo Choi figures to help Korea in that department with his power, fellow OF Ah-Seop Son looks to add his high OPB and speed on the bases to steal some runs for South Korea. Let’s take a look at the spark plug for the Korea team.
Son was selected in the 4th round of the 2007 2nd KBO amateur player draft by the Lotte Giants. He made the KBO club as a rookie, rather than being assigned to the developmental Futures League. Perhaps he would have been better served there, as he played sparingly in his rookie season in 2007, appearing in only 4 games and accumulating only 6 total at bats. By the 2008 season, however, his talent was too great to deny, and he assumed a regular role with the Giants, starting both in left field as well as in the designated hitter’s spot and posting a .303/.387/.404 line.
Just when Son seemed to be poised for a real star’s coming out party in his age-21 season in 2009, he slumped badly. His average plummeted all the way down to .186, and he saw his playing time start to dwindle, first losing at-bats against left-handers and finally finding himself on the bench more often than not. Son finished the season batting 186/.263/.337 and playing in only 34 total games. Despite expectations coming into the season, he was not named to the roster for Korea’s entry into the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
The slump would prove to be short-lived, however, as Son bounced back to post batting averages of at least .300 in each of his next 7 seasons. He led the league in hits in 2012 and 2013, and also won the gold glove in 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014. He posted seasons 36 and 40 stolen bases. He was named to the team for the 2013 WBC, though he played sparingly, appearing in only two of Korea’s three games, mostly as a pinch-hitter and defensive replacement. Despite the disappointment in the 2013 WBC, Son and team Korea responded, claiming gold in the 2014 Asian Games and the inaugural 2015 WBSC Premier 12.
Following the 2015 season, the Giants surprised many in the baseball community when they named Son as their one player eligible to be posted for that year. The posting was surprising because unlike most players who go up to post, Son was not in the last year of his contract, but instead had 2 years remaining on his contract. Many speculated that the Giants were trying to drive up the bidding for Son, by posting him at a time when they still retained years of team control and could, therefore, in principle, reject any lowball offers for their star outfielder. Their plan backfired, however, as MLB, recognizing their play, made no bids on Son, rather choosing until he would either be posted later or until he would become a free agent outright.
A diminutive left-handed swinger standing 5’9’’ and weighing 187 lbs, Son plays the role of a true speedster. He has a short choppy swing which allows him to make great contact with the ball and makes him a pest to strikeout. While his moderate power (he posted seasons of 18, 16, and 15 HR in the KBO) would be unlikely to translate to the major league level, he retains enough strength, in conjunction with his speed, to hit for extra bases by punching the ball into the gaps or hooking or shooting it down the lines. He is an excellent bunter and makes use of his left-handed stance to gain those crucial first few steps out of the box which separate a hit from an out. Expect to see Son batting right at the top of the Korean order, either leading off or hitting in the 2 hole. While he is naturally a corner outfielder in the KBO, and could easily slot into either LF or RF with team Korea, it is possible that In-Sik Kim might try to roll the dice with Son in CF to try to sneak another bat into the lineup in one of the corners. That is the kind of skill and versatility which Son brings to the Korean lineup. Give Pool B a look to get your first glimpse of a likely future big leaguer.