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04/02/2003 Archived Entry: "Korean Baseball News: KBO 2003 Season Preview"

Korean Baseball News: KBO 2003 Season Preview

By Andrew Wong

Baseball is back as the Korean Baseball Organizaton (KBO) gets ready to return to action to start the 2003 season. Last season, the Samsung Lions finally won the Korean Series after 20 fruitless attempts.

Here's a preview to the upcoming KBO season:

Kia Tigers

The team formerly known as the Haitai Tigers will be singing Purple Rain this year. Now known as the Kia Tigers, they have the best chance to win the Korean Series.

Daniel Rios, Mark Kiefer, Jin-woo Kim and Sang-duk Choi will anchor the starting rotation while freshman Pil-jun Jin will close games out. Kiefer won 19 games last season while Rios had 14 wins to go along with 13 saves.

Just to show how balanced the Tigers are on pitching/offense, they have added former Hyundai Unicorns outfielder Jae-hong Park. Jeong-bum Lee is the other outfielder and is a very dangerous hitter with runners in scoring position. Lee is firing on all cylinders and might return to the career year he had in 1994 when he had 196 hits and 84 stolen bases. Lee spent two weeks with the MLB's Florida Marlins in training camp. Meanwhile, speaking of hitting, Sung-ho Jung led the KBO last season in hitting with a .343 batting average and 165 hits.

The Kia Tigers are sponsored by the car maker Kia, managed by Sung-han Kim and are based in Kwangju, South Korea.

They have nine championships (1983, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 1997).

Samsung Lions:

It took 20 years but the Samsung Lions won it all in 2002 and this year, they also have excellent pitching and hitting. It is a Korean tradition that the team that wins the Korean Series the year before usually has a lull the year after.

Seung-yeop Lee and Chang-yong Lim, two Lions that have been with the team their entire careers, hope to change that.

The Samsung Lions are based in Daegu, South Korea and are sponspored by the cellular maker Samsung. They have two championships (1985, 2002).

Doosan Bears

Tyrone Woods is now hitting home runs for the Yokohama Bay Stars of the Central League in Japan and the Doosan Bears will have to adjust to life without him for the first time since 1998, which was also the year when the KBO allowed foreign players to play in Korea. Woods was done after clashing with management last year but he thanked Korea for giving him an opportunity to play baseball. The Bears also lost pitcher Gary Rath to Japan. Rath was a key member of the starting rotation last season.

The Bears seemed to have all the pieces necessary (especially Woods and Rath) but somehow managed to miss the playoffs in 2002. All the batters in the Bears' starting lineup can hit .300, especially Won-jin Chang and Kyung-hyun Ahn.

With the loss of Woods, the Bears added Mike Coolbaugh, whose brother Scott played with the Hyundai Unicorns in 1998.

Former Boston Red Sox prospect Kyung-hwan Choi, last year's most improved player, should get more playing time this season. He was originally acquired by the LG Twins which then dealt him to Doosan. Solid hitters include Dong-joo Kim who hit .318 with 26 home runs last season and Sung-heun Hong who batted .289 with 18 homers.

On the mound will be ace Myung-hwan Park, Ja-eun Koo, newcomer Hyuk Sohn (acquired from Kia), Satoshi Iriki (from Japan) and Hei-chun Lee as the fifth and final starter.

The Doosan Bears were founded in 1982 and are based in Seoul, South Korea. They have three championships (1985, 1995, 2000).

Hyundai Unicorns

Blaspheming Min-Tea Chong is back. Chong promised double-digits in wins with the Yomuri Giants of the Central League in Japan but instead spent two years in the minors. Shane Bowers of the Yokohama Bay Stars of the Central League in Japan was also added to the pitching staff. Bowers was 4-8 with a 3.77 ERA in 24 games with the Bay Stars. Soo-kyung Kim was 12-10 last season for Hyundai and will likely improve this year. Rouding out the pitching staff will be Sun-dong Im and Jae-yong Eui.

The Hyundai Unicorns are one of the best hitting teams in the KBO. Jung-soo Shim, fresh from his two-week stint with the MLB's Florida Marlins, will be a batter to watch. He hit 46 home runs with the Unicorns last year and scouts have told him that he has Major League talent. Shim will be able to go abroad next year with Hyundai's permission and in two years as an unrestricted free agent. Rounding out the starting lineup includes Seung-young Lee, Micha Franklin and Chong Song-hoon, a new acquisition from the Kia Tigers. Jin-man Park is among the best defensive players in the league but not a consistent hitter while leadoff man Joon-ho Chun and No. 2 hitter Jong-ho Park will score many runs with simple hits and not home runs. Dong-soo Kim will be the new man behind the plate because Kyung-wan defected to the SK Wyverns. Both signed as free agents with their respective teams.

The Hyundai Unicorns are sponsored by the car maker Hyundai and are based in Suwon, South Korea. They were founded in 1996 and have two Korean Series victories (1998, 2000).

Predicted finish. Don't quote me on this:

1. Kia Tigers
2. Samsung Lions
3. Doosan Bears
4. Hyundai Unicorns
5. LG Twins (sponsored by the cellular maker LG, founded in 1990, home base in Seoul, South Korea, 1990, 1994 Korean Series)
6. Lotte Giants (sponsored by the supermarket chain Lotte, founded in 1982, home base in Busan, South Korea, 1984, 1992 Korean Series)
7. Hanhwa Eagles (based in Daejeon, South Korea, founded in 1986, 1999 Korean series)
8. SK Wyverns (based in Incheon, South Korea, founded in 2000, 0 Korean Series victories)

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