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“Muju Gongsan” and “Genius hitter” for existing players vs. reserve next year

Since its foundation, Lotte has had strong first baseman leading the team’s batting lineup. Kim Yong-cheol (66), who won the Golden Glove as the first baseman in 1984, Kim Min-ho (62), the “Gargalchi” Kim Min-ho (62), and Ma Hae-young (53), who won the batting title (0.372) in 1999.

Lee Dae-ho (41) was born after the mid-2000s. After serving as the third baseman, Lee became the main first baseman in 2006, and won three batting titles (batting rate, home run, and RBI) that year, and has continued to be among the top players since then. After passing through Japan and the U.S., Lee was recognized for his talent by winning a total of four Golden Gloves as first baseman through 2017.

However, Lotte’s starting first baseman has changed almost every year since 2018, when Lee Dae-ho’s designated hitter participation rate has increased. Since Lee started as a first baseman in 114 games in 2017, no Lotte player has been listed as a starting first baseman in more than 100 games until this year. Jung Hoon (36) started more than half of the seasons in 2021 (94 games) and 2022 (74 games).

The first baseman was Muju Gongsan this season. Former coach Larry Sutton (53) deployed Ko Seung-min (23), who had been the main right fielder since the second half of last year, as the first baseman in the opening game. The plan was to elevate his batting ability by converting him to the first baseman, who showed good performance with the batting average of 0.316, five homers, 30 RBIs and an OPS of 0.834 in the 2022 season.

However, Go Seung-min’s bat did not explode as expected, and the plan failed to continue steadily. Consequently, An Chi-hong (33) of the current Hanwha Eagles and Chung Hoon spent more time to play first baseman’s mitts from mid-May. Several players took turns participating, with Jeon Joon-woo (37) and Han Dong-hee (24) appearing as first baseman. At the end of the second half, Chung Hoon, who had a good batting sense, often made the starting lineup.

In general, players with good batting tend to occupy positions at first base. However, Lotte’s first basemen did not have noticeable performances. Ko Seung-min, who started the most games (54 games) this year, had a batting average of 0.224 (57 hits in 255 times at bat) with two homers and 24 RBIs in the OPS of 0.649. Having started 47 games, Chung had a batting average of 0.279 (56 hits in 201 times at bat) with six homers and 31 RBIs in the OPS of 0.796.

Even so, there is a possibility that it will change again next season. Ko is seeking change by taking training at second base, her position as an amateur player. It is also difficult to expect Chung, who will turn 37 next year, to hold on to the starting lineup. In the end, a new face must come out.

The surest way to do that was to reinforce foreign batters. Lotte manager Kim Tae-hyung said right after his inauguration that he viewed (foreign) batters’ ability to hit long balls first, which could be met by a position at the first base. As the cold spell hit the foreign batter market, however, all clubs had difficulties in supply and demand, and Lotte also turned to an outfielder to recruit Victor Reyes, 29.

Still, there are some candidates. Na Seung-yeop (21) is a genius hitter who was discharged from the Sangmu Baseball Organization last month. He was highly anticipated to advance to the Major League when he was a student at Deoksu High School, and joined Lotte in the second round of the 2021 rookie draft. In the first division, he had a trial and error with a batting average of 0.204 (23 hits in 113 times at bat) in 60 games, but it was different in the Futures League. He was selected as the Futures All-Star with a batting average of 0.300 with seven homers and 64 RBIs in 82 games last year, and posted a batting average of 0.312 with five homers and 57 RBIs with a batting average of 0.869 this season as well.

By displaying his contact capability in the Futures League, Na has brightened up his adaptation to the first team. He also has no problem in adapting himself to the first base since he mainly played first base when he was a manager. “Being on first base is more awkward than being caught,” said Ryu Joong-il, 60, who watched Na play for the 2023 Asian Professional Baseball Championship (APBC). “But he played really well in practice matches. I really liked how he hit it. He is like a friend who tried to go overseas in the past.”

Who will be the first baseman of the 2024 season’s Kim Tae-hyung? Attention should be drawn to whether he is a new face or an old player.

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