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Slugger Eric Thames sets sight on 2nd straight MVP award in S. Korean baseball

All News 10:50 January 21, 2016

SEOUL, Jan. 21 (Yonhap) -- After enjoying a historic 2015 season en route to capturing his first MVP in South Korean baseball, NC Dinos slugger Eric Thames has already set his sights on winning the highest individual honor for the second straight year.

"I want the MVP award (for 2016)," Thames said in a text message to Yonhap News Agency Thursday, when asked about his goal for the new season.

Thames posted the first 40-40 season in Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) history last year with 47 home runs and 40 steals. He also won the batting title with a .381 average, while leading the league with a .497 on-base percentage, a .790 slugging percentage, 130 runs scored, 94 extra-base hits and 42 doubles.

These video game numbers helped Thames edge out former Nexen Heroes first baseman Park Byung-ho 50-44 in the MVP voting.

The 29-year-old said he will be "running a lot more" in 2016 to keep up with his speedy teammates: Park Min-woo (team-high 46 steals) and Kim Jong-ho (41 swipes). Park, Kim and Thames ranked among the top five in the KBO in steals, and the Dinos as a team led the league with 204 steals, 47 more than the next best team: the Samsung Lions.

"I have taken better care of my legs this offseason and improved my mobility," Thames said. "(I've taken up) new stretching and mobility programs."

Thames, who'd also talked of winning the MVP before the start of last season, said he's his harshest critic.

"I put the most pressure on myself," he said. "My teammates will tell you how crazy I am. If I don't do well, I get very angry and train harder. As long as I stay healthy and play, I am in a good state."

In an already strong Dinos' lineup that ranked third in the league last year with 844 runs, Thames will receive some new protection in the form of third baseman Park Sok-min. The perennial All-Star signed with the Dinos as a free agent last November, after setting career highs with a .321 batting average, 116 RBIs and 83 walks for the Lions. Park has hit 94 home runs with 355 RBIs over the past four years, while hitting above .300 in each of those seasons. He has a career .297/.412/.506 line.

Thames, Park and All-Star outfielder Na Sung-bum -- with a combined 58 homers and 236 RBIs the past two seasons -- should form the heart of the order. The 39-year-old veteran Lee Ho-jun, who has remained productive, with three consecutive 20-homer seasons, should provide extra pop behind them.

"I am happy (that Park joined NC)," Thames said. "It will be interesting to see how this season goes for the team and for myself. As always, it will be a very interesting season with plenty of drama and unpredictable happenings."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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