The Chunghun Manma are back. Fourteen players from the Korean Armed Forces Athletic Corps (Commerce) baseball team were discharged from the military on Wednesday and returned to their respective teams. Some of them are expected to join the first team as soon as they are discharged. Who will be the difference makers in the fierce battle for the top spot in the early summer?
The most prominent is KIA Tigers outfielder Choi Won-jun (26). He was one of KIA’s key resources before joining the military, and he’s likely to earn a spot in the 스포츠토토 first team upon his return. Choi batted .382 (124-for-325) in 92 games for the Sangsang last year, earning him the Futures (Second Division) League Southern League batting title. Choi earned a wild-card spot on the Korean National Baseball Team for the Hangzhou Asian Games in September. With his proven skills, he is seen as a key resource to boost the power of KIA’s first base and outfield.
Samsung Lions pitcher Choi Chae-heung (28) is also a standout. Choi is another talented pitcher who was part of Samsung’s starting rotation before joining the military. He has a good chance to win a starting spot after returning to Samsung. This comes at a time when Samsung is also struggling to decide on a fifth starter. Along with his return, Choi Chae-heung was also selected as the starting pitcher against the LG Twins in Jamsil on the 13th. It will be interesting to see if Choi can continue the momentum from last year’s 10-game, 7-0 record with a 1.79 ERA with the Sangsang.
The return of right-hander Choi Ji-kwang, 25, is also expected to be a big boost for Samsung. A stalwart of Samsung’s rotation before joining the military, Choi was solid in 31 games with the Sangsang last year, going 3-0 with an ERA of 3.58 in eight starts and four saves, and 2-0 with an ERA of 3.72 in 12 games this season. This year, he even had an 11-game scoreless streak before his last game in June. Samsung currently ranks last in the league in reliever ERA (4.98), so the team is waiting for Choi to join them.
LG Twins left-hander Lee Sang-young (23) has also been scheduled to start alongside his return. Lee was given the opportunity after the previous starter, Kim Yun-sik (23), was expunged due to poor performance. In two seasons with the Merchants, Sang-young has performed well, going 18-4 with a 3.11 ERA in 31 games. In a recent interview, LG manager Yoon Kyung-yeop said, “I watched (Lee’s) game on TV, and he was attractive, so there is a high probability that he will be the fourth starter (in the current atmosphere).”
The Doosan Bears will have more bullpen depth with the return of Kim Min-kyu (24). Kim will be a big boost to a bullpen that was bolstered by the addition of Lee Young-ha (26). The Lotte Giants bolster their catching depth with the addition of Son Sung-bin (21). Kim Chan-hyung (26-SSG Landers) and Choi Jung-won (23-NC Dinos) will also bolster the infield depth of their respective teams. The Hanwha Eagles lose four prospects, including Choi In-ho (23).
Amidst the fierce battle for the top spot in April and May, managers have been waiting for June, when the players will be discharged. They hope to make a comeback in June with their full strength. It will be interesting to see which of the reservists will stand out and which team will receive the ‘reserve buff’ and rise to the top.