It’s draft season in the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) once again. The time of year when teams look to the future and try to bolster the gaps in their rosters, or try to find the diamond in the rough who will go on to be the next great star of the league. There are two rounds included in the KBO draft schedule; The First Round: Territorial Draft, and the Second Round: Main Draft. While the main draft typically takes place on the fourth Monday in August every year, the territorial draft happens earlier in the campaign.
In the territorial draft teams are able to select a player from a grouping of high schools within a certain jurisdiction associated with their team. In the subsequent draft rounds all players will be eligible for selection by any team. With the exception of the Seoul teams Doosan, Nexen, and LG which rotate their selection order year by year, the territorial first round pick is exclusively limited to the schools in a team’s given area which has previously led to teams negotiating trades to acquire territorial picks that would not have otherwise been available to them.
Lim KiYoung (임기영) of the KIA Tigers (Drafted in the 2012 Draft by the Hanwha Eagles), and Park SeWoong (박세웅) of the Lotte Giants (Drafted in the 2014 Draft by the kt wiz) are two of the most recent examples of the fruits of such trades. Lim KiYoung currently leads the KBO league in ERA (1.82), and has pitched 77 1/3 innings (including two complete games – one a shut-out) across 11 games for 7 wins, 2 losses, and 21 strikeouts this season, while only giving up 3 home runs, and 15 walks. Park SeWoong takes the second place in ERA (2.08), and currently tops the league in WAR (3.53). Park has pitched 86 2/3 innings across 14 games this season earning 9 wins, 2 losses, and 60 strikeouts.
The list of players selected in the first round of the 2018 draft was released on Monday June 26th by the KBO. Among the ten KBO teams, nine elected to draft high school graduates, while only the Samsung Lions chose to draft a university player this year. As with most years, an emphasis has been placed on pitching in the territorial round with the drafted players including eight pitchers (7 right-handed, 1 left-handed), one catcher, and one infielder.
The 2018 Territorial First Round Draft Picks
The name causing the most excitement among the first round picks is Ahn WooJin (안우진) who was selected by the Seoul Nexen Heroes from Whimoon High School. The right handed pitcher boasts a 150km/hr fastball peaking at 156km/hr, and a 140km/hr slider and has been widely considered the best pitcher in the high-school circuit this year with his ability to work off-speed pitches into his arsenal. The selection of Ahn follows that of his high school teammate, Lee JeongHoo who after being drafted in the 2017 territorial first round draft has gone on to bat 0.330 with 86 hits, 56 runs and 25 RBIs this season earning him the starting right-field role. An equal amount of expectation has been placed on Ahn’s development and many within the organization hope to see great things of him in the future.
Doosan Bears, as the second Seoul team this year selected Kwak Bin (곽빈) from Baemyung High School. Originally a hitter until the second year of high school, Kwak (nicknamed Moai Statue by his teammates) made the adjustment to pitching at the beginning of his third year. This season he has thrown an average 150km/h fastball with a maximum speed of 153km/h and earned a 3.00ERA in 15 1/3 innings across 6 games giving up only 7 hits for 1 win, 2 losses, and 23 strikeouts.
The LG Twins this year received the third Seoul draft pick, and chose the right-handed pitcher, Kim YoungJun (김영준) from Sunrin Internet High School. While Kim’s fastball clocks in at a maximum of 146km/h, his strength is in his control. This season he has pitched 47 innings across 10 games for 4 wins, giving up only 12 walks. Much akin to Ahn for Nexen, Kim YoungJun is following in the footsteps of another Sunrin High School alumni, Kim DaeHyeon (김대현). Like Kim DaeHyun, there are high hopes for Kim YoungJun to quickly make his way into the LG Twins main roster and become one of their future stars.
Looking to bolster their pitching lineup the kt wiz selected the right-handed pitcher Kim Min (김민) from Yushin High School. In addition to a 150km/h fastball, Kim has a sharp slider and a deceptive wide-angle release on his fastball as his primary weapons. These skills led to Kim Min being selected to represent team Korea at the 2016 Asian U18 Baseball Championships where he pitched 3 shut out innings from the bullpen and started against Japan where he pitched 5 innings giving up 3 runs against the eventual tournament winners.
Why choose a pitcher, or an infielder when you can have both? The SK Wyvern’s right-handed territorial draft pick, Kim JungWoo (김정우) from Dongsan High School fits both roles and has over the last year in high school pitched 17 shut-out innings across 8 games with his average 140km/h fastball, a slider, and a changeup. He has also fielded at both third base and shortstop and had decent success at the plate knocking in 10 RBIs. While SK have not declared whether they will train him as a utility infielder or as a pitcher, he is a welcome addition to the aging Wyverns’ roster.
Sometimes the exclusivity of the territorial draft is a blessing, other times it is a curse. For the Daejeon Hanwha Eagles it may be a case of the latter this season as despite positive prospects appearing throughout middle school, there is a lack of exceptional players from Chungcheon, Gangwon, and Yeongseo high school systems this year. For lack of a clear choice like the aforementioned teams, Hanwha have opted to pick pitcher Seong SiHyeon (성시현) from Cheonan Bugil Academy. The right handed pitcher has shown promise with an average 140km/h fastball and 54.2 innings pitched over 14 games for one win and 4 losses and a 2.64 ERA last year. With the correct coaching he has every opportunity to flourish.
Following the loss of Hwang JaeGyun to the San Francisco Giants during the off season, the Lotte Giants have had a large gap both defensively in the infield and offensively in their batting order. The Lotte draft pick, Han DongHee (한동희) is a right-handed third baseman from Kyungnam High School who over the last year of high school has boasted a batting average of 0.440 and an on base percentage of 0.740 including 22 hits, 4 home runs and 19 RBIs. Many expect that he will flourish under the tutelage of his role model, Lee DaeHo and go on to become a key piece of the Lotte Giants offense in the future.
Following the trade of two catchers this in as many seasons, the Gwangju KIA Tigers have opted to bolster their catching ranks with the first position player selected as a territorial first round pick in 14 years. Han JunSoo (한준수) from Gwangju Dongsung High School was chosen for his solid blocking, strong shoulder, and a steady batting average of 0.254 with 10 RBIs during the last year. He has been predicted by KIA’s head scout Kim JiHoon (김지훈) that following completion of his military service, Han JunSoo has the potential to grow into a power hitting catcher who can be a real asset down the line.
Since joining the KBO as an expansion team the NC Dinos have had a strong emphasis on their bullpen, pitching, and scouting programs, and this year is no exception as they opt for a pitcher as their territorial draft pick for a fourth consecutive year by picking Kim SiHoon (김시훈) from Masan High School. While Kim has a mid-140km/h fastball, he has relied on his control and depth of pitching by mixing a slider and a splitter into his arsenal to pitch 53 1/2 innings over 11 games for 5 wins, 2 losses, and 65 strikeouts giving up only 13 walks with an ERA of 1.85.
While the other teams have all chosen high school graduates, Daegu’s Samsung Lions are the only team who have chosen a university player as their territorial draft pick, opting for left-handed pitcher Choi ChaeHeung (최채흥) from Hanyang University. Formerly a first baseman for Daegu Sangwon High School, Choi received no offers in his first attempt at the KBO draft and entered Hanyang University where he joined the tutelage of former Samsung Lion, Binggrae Eagle, and Taepyeongyang Dolphin Kim HanGeun (김한근). During his first year of university Choi was convinced to switch from first base to pitching and under Kim’s guidance he has developed his arsenal to include a 130km/h fastball, slider, curveball, changeup, and cutter. Using these he has won the pitching ace award in the Presidential College Baseball Championship and been selected for the team Korea roster at the U-21 World Baseball Championship, U-23 World Baseball Championship, and the 2015 Asian Baseball Championship. With continued improvement on his fastball velocity to mid-140km/h over the past year he has finally been drafted at the second time of asking and will now join the effort to rebuild the Samsung Lions.