Choi Byung-yong, who suffered from unknown sorrow in the KBO rookie draft, was selected by the San Diego Padres. Will he be able to grow into Kim Ha-sung’s ‘successor’.
San Diego nominated Choi Byung-yong in the 611th round of the 20th round of the 2023 Major League Rookie Draft held at Lumen Field in Seattle, Washington on the 11th (Korea Standard Time).
Born in 2002, Choi Byung-yong graduated from Shinil High School as an infielder with a 6.3-foot (about 189.5cm). Choi Byung-yong played in 안전놀이터 23 games during his senior year at Shinil High School, recording 24 hits, one home run, 14 RBIs, 14 runs scored, and a batting average of 0.282 OPS 0.774, but was not selected by 10 clubs in the KBO rookie draft. Choi Byung-yong’s choice, who experienced unknown sorrow, was to enter overseas markets.
Choi Byung-yong went to the New Mexico Military Institute in New Mexico, and played 58 college league games this year, recording 15 home runs, 80 RBIs, 71 runs scored, 45 walks, and 10 steals, with a batting average of 0.448 OPS 1.429. And in the 20th round of the Major League Baseball Rookie Draft, he succeeded in boarding the “last train” to San Diego.
According to the San Diego Union-Tribune in the U.S., Chris Kemp, vice president of San Diego Scouting, said, “Choi Byung-yong really likes our club and Kim Ha-sung.” He said, “Choi Byung-yong loves San Diego and wants to be here.” “We think he can play really well, and we are happy to have Choi Byung-yong,” he said.
Park Chan-ho, the “Korean Express,” succeeded as the number of Korean players entering the U.S. began to increase. Park Chan-ho, who was attending Hanyang University, signed with the LA Dodgers through an international amateur contract and showed great performance in the Major League, and big league clubs began to show great interest in Korean players.
At that time, there were not one or two players who challenged the U.S. stage without going through the KBO League after graduating from high school. Seo Jae-eung, Choi Hee-seop, Kim Sun-woo, and Song Seung-joon are representative. Players who challenged the Major League after experiencing the KBO League stage include Sanghoon Lee, Koo Dae-sung, and Lim Chang-yong. Of course, not all players who advanced to the U.S. could smile, but it was “BK” Kim Byung-hyun who succeeded here.
This trend led to Ryu Hyun-jin (currently Toronto Blue Jays) as Park Chan-ho and Kim Byung-hyun proved that Korean players work in the starting and bullpen. After wearing the Dodgers uniform, Ryu Hyun-jin is still on the path of being the top player in the Major League. And this is also connecting to current juniors.
As a representative example, in the case of the LA Dodgers, where Park Chan-ho and Ryu Hyun-jin played, Choi Hyun-il is currently playing in the minor leagues under his wing. In addition, Choi Ji-man and Bae Ji-hwan are active players, and the Pittsburgh Pirates, where Park Hyo-joon and Kang Jung-ho stayed, signed an international amateur contract with “160km monster” Shim Joon-seok before this season.
It was Choo Shin-soo (currently SSG Landers) who opened the door as an outfielder. Although there are no Korean outfielders now, Lee Jung-hoo is likely to take over the baton. And Kang Jung-ho started as an infielder. After entering the Major League, he made a surprise performance and changed his perception of Korean infielders. However, Hwang Jae-kyun and Park Byung-ho returned to the KBO League without making any significant results, but Kim Ha-sung is now following Kang Jung-ho.
Kim Ha-sung has established himself as an indispensable person in San Diego. Kim Ha-sung, who signed a contract with San Diego ahead of the 2021 season, had a hard time adjusting to the ball in his first season of debut, but he jumped to the starting lineup last year and is having a career-high-speed season this year.
In particular, Kim Ha-sung stands out the most in defense. Kim Ha-sung played as the main shortstop in San Diego last year and was selected as the final candidate for the Gold Glove in the National League shortstop category, and this year, he is aiming to become the first Korean to win the Gold Glove after moving to second base. Kim Ha-sung’s defense index is the top second baseman in the National League. If the current trend continues, it is likely to lead to the first award.
San Diego, which has not had much experience with Korean players except Park Chan-ho, is very likely to have been the background for choosing Choi Byung-yong, although it is the 20th round, as Kim Ha-sung succeeded. Starting with Park Chan-ho, Kim Ha-sung is now acting as a “guide” for his juniors, following Kim Byung-hun, Choo Shin-soo, Ryu Hyun-jin and Kang Jung-ho.
Will Choi Byung-yong, who had a regret of not being nominated in the KBO rookie draft, be able to grow into a Korean infielder big leaguer after Kim Ha-sung. It is not uncommon for a player who has been nominated for the lowest round to experience the Major League stage.