By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL/GWANGJU, April 30 (Yonhap) -- South Korean baseball All-Star Choi Jeong has denied hiring an agent to sign with a big league club for next season.
Ahead of his SK Wyverns' road game against the Kia Tigers in Gwangju, about 330 kilometers south of Seoul, on Tuesday, Choi was tightlipped about a recent report from the United States that he has signed on with an international agent and will try to play in Major League Baseball (MLB) next year.
Earlier, CBSSports.com reported that Choi, a versatile third baseman who becomes a free agent after this season, could add "extra star power to the third base market" in the offseason.
The story also quoted Melvin Roman, introduced as Choi's agent, as saying, "He has a strong desire to come and play in the major leagues."
Choi turned down all interview requests on Tuesday, saying he didn't have any comment on the U.S. report. Through the team, Choi said claims of his hiring an agent or preparing to jump to the big leagues next year "are not true."
Choi, 27, is a perennial All-Star in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO). He has hit at least 20 homers and posted an on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) of at least .900 in each of the past four seasons.
Choi enjoyed his best offensive season in 2013, with career-highs of 28 homers, 24 steals, a .551 slugging percentage and a .429 on-base percentage. He batted .316 and drove in 83 runs, second-best marks of his nine-year career. He's also known for solid glove at hot corner.
CBSSports.com likened him to David Wright of the New York Mets, a seven-time All-Star who has won two Gold Gloves and has hit 20 or more homers in six of his first 10 big league seasons. Wright is a lifetime .301 hitter with 223 homers and 891 RBIs.
Roman runs MDR Sports Management out of Puerto Rico. The company's website lists Choi as an international client. The agency's MLB clientele includes Yadier Molina, an All-Star catcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, and Leonys Martin, an outfielder for the Texas Rangers.
Calls to MDR Sports Management, seeking comments on the situation, were not immediately returned.
A front-office official with the Wyverns said Choi didn't want to be distracted by such reports.
"Obviously, he belongs to the SK Wyverns at the moment, and he said he wanted to concentrate on playing for his current club," the official told Yonhap News Agency. "He said he didn't want to say too much about the situation because whatever he says may get taken out of context or blown out of proportion."
The official explained that some baseball agents list players as their clients even before signing formal agreements.
"During overseas training camps (for KBO teams), agents would stop by and say hello to players," the official said. "Then they would start telling people that those players are their clients. Choi said he has never signed any deal with the agent."
There are two South Koreans in the majors this year: Ryu Hyun-jin, starting pitcher of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Choo Shin-soo, outfielder of the Rangers. Another, a pitcher Yoon Suk-min, is currently with the Norfolk Tides, the Triple-A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles.
Ryu last season became the first South Korean to go from the KBO to the bigs. Should Choi join an MLB team next year, he will become the first Korean position player to make the jump.
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