By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Nov. 10 (Yonhap) -- The South Korean roster for the 2017 World Baseball Classic (WBC) was whittled down from 50 to 28 on Thursday, with a major league closer left off due to an off-field controversy.
The national team coaching staff, led by manager Kim In-sik, announced the trimmed-down squad after a meeting Thursday at the headquarters of the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) in Seoul.
The list includes three major league players -- Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Kang Jung-ho, Texas Rangers outfielder Choo Shin-soo and Baltimore Orioles outfielder Kim Hyun-soo. Lee Dae-ho, who is a free agent after playing one season for the Seattle Mariners, also made the team.
St. Louis Cardinals closer Oh Seung-hwan, however, was not included. He was also absent from the 50-man provisional roster announced in October.
As a major league rookie in 2016, the right-hander had 19 saves and a 1.92 ERA in 76 appearances, and he is also the KBO's career leader in saves with 277.
But he would have been a controversial national team pick after getting fined by a South Korean court on illegal overseas gambling charges earlier this year. The KBO also slapped him with a 72-game ban, which will take effect if he rejoins the domestic league where he spent the first nine years of his career.
Kim In-sik faced a strong backlash in September when he hinted that he was willing to look past Oh's gambling history to pick him for the national team.
In explaining Thursday's omission, Kim spoke of the series of gambling and match-fixing scandals that marred the KBO this year.
"We've had a lot of unsavory incidents (in the KBO) this year," he said. "And we have to promote clean baseball. That's why we couldn't put him on the team."
The 28-man roster, with 13 pitchers, two catchers, eight infielders and five outfielders, is not final. The fourth edition of the WBC will take place from March 9-22 next year, and the deadline to submit the final roster will likely fall sometime in February.
Another major leaguer, Park Byung-ho of the Minnesota Twins, was left off, as he's recovering from a wrist surgery that prematurely ended his season in August. Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Ryu Hyun-jin, rehabbing from an elbow surgery, was not included on the provisional roster and was kept off this time too.
The current major leaguers will need the green light from their clubs to compete in the tournament, which falls at a time when teams are getting ready for the new season. Big leaguers for other countries have been reluctant to compete at previous WBCs because of such scheduling conflicts.
"The ones we've selected have told us they'd like to play," Kim explained. "We'll have to speak with their clubs. In the past, we selected major league players, and the KBO later sent official documents (for their release). These players told me some of their teammates have already told the club that they'd like to play at the WBC."
Without Oh at the back end of the bullpen, Kim selected seven pitchers with closing experience in the KBO -- LG Twins' Lim Jung-woo and Woo Kyu-min, Doosan Bears' Lee Yong-chan and Lee Hyun-seung, KT Wiz's Chang Si-hwan, SK Wyverns' Park Hee-soo, and Kia Tigers' Lim Chang-yong.
"With the pitch count limits at the WBC, relievers have to come into games early," the manager said. "We have a few players who have closed before, and they'll all have to pick up the slack."
The national team is also heavy on left-handed starting pitching, with All-Stars Kim Kwang-hyun, Chang Won-jun and Yang Hyeon-jong.
Kim In-sik said the training camp will open around Feb. 12 in Okinawa, Japan, where the team will stay for about 10 days and play a couple of exhibition games.
Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul will host the first round action next March. South Korea will face the Netherlands, Chinese Taipei and Israel in Pool B.
South Korea will first play Israel on March 6, followed by the Netherlands on March 7 and Chinese Taipei on March 9. All Korean games will start at 7 p.m.
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