From ‘shortstop’ Kim Ha-Sung to ‘survivalist’ Choi Ji-Man–Corian big leaguers start exhibition games

Warming up for some, opportunity and competition for others. The 2024 Major League Baseball (MLB) exhibition games are finally upon us, and with many Korean leaguers in attendance, the excitement is higher than ever.

This year’s MLB exhibition games will kick off on March 23 with the opening game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres. The two teams will be the first major league clubs to open the regular season with the MLB Seoul Series on March 20 and 21 at Gocheok SkyDome, and the first to play exhibition games.

This season will feature more Korean players than ever before, including Kim Ha-seong (San Diego), who is entering his fourth year in the major leagues, as well as newcomers such as Lee Jung-hoo (San Francisco) and Ko Woo-seok (San Diego), and those facing stiff competition such as Choi Ji-man (New York Mets) and Bae Ji-hwan (Pittsburgh).

Last year’s Gold Glove winner in the utility category, Ha Sung Kim, will return to shortstop this year. “Zander Bogaerts, our starting shortstop, will move to second base and Ha Sung Kim will play shortstop,” San Diego manager Mike Shields announced in spring training.

Since his major league debut, Kim has played every infield position except first base, including shortstop, second base, and third base. He’s always been a top-notch defender wherever he’s played, and this year, he finally got the recognition he deserved. The fact that Bogaerts, who signed an 11-year, $280 million contract with the Dodgers, didn’t say anything despite his stature on the team is a testament to his defense.

Kim and Go Woo-seok have been in hot competition for the closer’s job since the exhibition games. With a 2+1 year, $9.4 million maximum contract with San Diego, Go Woo-seok can’t take a step back from the exhibition games to make the Opening Day roster. San Diego has an opening at the closer’s position after Josh Hader, its closer until last year, left for the Houston Astros. He’ll face competition from Yuki Matsui and Roberto Suarez, and the locals don’t think it’s likely that Go will get the closer’s job. Still, there’s no such thing as a never say never.

Lee Jung-hoo, who has taken the South Korean baseball world by storm this winter, will make his debut on Friday against the Chicago Cubs in an exhibition game. Lee, who signed a six-year, $113 million contract that set a new record for an Asian free agent, has been trusted since joining the organization. San Francisco manager Bob Melvin has absolute faith in 스포츠토토 Lee, saying, “It would be strange if he didn’t start the opener.” Lee has been focusing on adjusting to major league pitching this spring training rather than competing.

Bae Ji-hwan and Choi Ji-man will have to fight for survival.

Bae, who stole a team-high 24 bases in 111 games last year, is competing with Nick Gonzalez and Leover Peguero for the starting second base job. Pittsburgh begins an exhibition schedule on April 25 against the Minnesota Twins.

Experience gives Bae an edge over the competition, but it’s not a sure thing. Last year, Bae hit just .231 with a .609 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage), which is a serious lack of power. While he has the speed to steal a couple bases when he gets out, he needs to improve his less-than-three percent walk rate to increase his stolen base total. He also needs to improve his on-base percentage, which is in the low 30s.

Choi, who signed a one-year split deal with the New York Mets on July 17, faces a tough road to the majors if he falls out of contention. Choi, who was a solid first baseman for the Tampa Bay Rays, struggled with injuries last year, hitting just .163 with 13 home runs in 39 games. With the team having an established first baseman in Pete Alonso, Choi should realistically be aiming for the leadoff spot. The battle for survival begins on May 25 against the St. Louis Cardinals in the opening game of the exhibition season.