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(LEAD) Lack of versatility costs KBO's hitting machine chance to play at Asiad

All Headlines 18:51 July 28, 2014

(ATTN: ADDS comments in paras 7-10)
By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, July 28 (Yonhap) -- Seo Geon-chang, the speedy leadoff man for the Nexen Heroes, can do a lot of things well at the plate. He also plays solid defense at second base, and yet his inability to play elsewhere in the field is what ultimately cost him his chance to represent South Korea at this year's Asian Games.

Ryu Joong-il, the manager of the Samsung Lions who will lead South Korea at the Asiad this fall, on Monday announced his 24-man roster. Save for the one amateur quota, Ryu named 23 All-Star caliber players from the country's top professional league, the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO).

Seo was one of the more notable snubs for the team. The 2012 KBO Rookie of the Year is leading the league in hits with 127 and runs scored with 82. He's batting a robust .359, good for fifth in the KBO. Seo has also stolen 33 bases, the second most in the league.

Ryu named six infielders but left out Seo. For his second baseman, Ryu picked Oh Jae-won of the Doosan Bears.

Oh has also hit for a high average (.336) and has stolen plenty of bases (23). What separated the two players was versatility.

"Oh Jae-won is a very useful player," Ryu said. "He can play every position in infield and can also be a pinch runner. We talked a lot about Seo Geon-chang during our team selection meeting, but unfortunately for him, he can only play second base."

Talking to reporters before Monday's game against the SK Wyverns, Seo said he could live with his exclusion.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed, but I am really okay now," he said. "People keep telling me they're sorry and I don't know how to react."

Seo said he never really thought he'd be picked for the team.

"I knew there was a possibility," he added. "But at some point, I stopped thinking about the Asian Games altogether. There will be more opportunities down the road. It's more important for me to keep getting better than to be named to the national team now."

Though Ryu didn't specifically say so, the two players' military exemption status may also have been a factor. A gold medal in the Asian Games exempts all male athletes from their mandatory service in the armed forces. Seo has already served in the military while Oh hasn't. With South Korea favored to repeat as the Asiad champ, Oh is one of 13 players on the roster who stands to benefit.

Park Sok-min, Ryu's own regular third baseman on the Lions, was also left off, despite some gaudy numbers. He has hit 22 homers, only two shy of his career high, and is batting .317 along with 59 RBIs.

Ryu cited Park's injury to his left middle finger as the main reason for his exclusion. Ryu will carry two third basemen: Hwang Jae-gyun of the Lotte Giants and Kim Min-sung of the Nexen Heroes, both of whom are batting over .300. Park is already exempt from the military service, while Hwang and Kim aren't.

Another Samsung player lost his bid for the Asian Games title with an injury. Outfielder Choi Hyoung-woo is dealing with broken ribs and Ryu chose Na Ji-wan of the Kia Tigers instead.

Na is having a solid season at the plate, batting a career-best .336 with a team-high 16 homers and 68 RBIs.

Ryu will have two catchers, one fewer than expected. He is taking Kang Min-ho of the Giants along with Lee Jae-won of the SK Wyverns.

Lee could be a useful bat off the bench, with his .386 average so far. Kang, though, appears to be a head scratcher of a pick.

Once one of the KBO's premier offensive catchers, Kang is batting just .220 this year with 10 homers and 26 RBIs -- this after signing the most lucrative free agent contract in league history last winter, worth 7.5 billion won ($US7.31 million) over four years.

Yang Eui-ji of the Bears was among three catchers on the 37-man provisional roster announced two weeks ago but became the odd man out on Monday. He's hitting .310 with seven homers and 28 RBIs.

Ryu defended his choice of Kang.

"He's not playing well now but I think he should be able to bounce back before the Asian Games," the manager said. "I still think he's the best catcher in the country."


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