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S. Korean infielder embraces challenger mindset after signing with San Francisco Giants

All Headlines 12:34 January 25, 2017

By Yoo Jee-ho

INCHEON, Jan. 25 (Yonhap) -- Having signed with the San Francisco Giants, South Korean infielder Hwang Jae-gyun said Wednesday he has embraced the mindset of a challenger.

"I've taken a step toward realizing my dream," Hwang told reporters at Incheon International Airport, before departing for the United States. "I'll try the absolute best I can to get to where I want to be."

Hwang signed a one-year split contract -- offering different salaries for the time spent in the majors and the minors -- with an invitation to spring training. If he makes the 25-man roster, he'll make US$1.5 million. He can also receive up to $1.6 million in incentives.

The 10-year Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) veteran enjoyed his best offensive season in 2016. He had a .335/.394/.570 line, with 27 home runs and 113 RBIs -- for the Lotte Giants, all of them career highs. He also cut down on his strikeouts, from 122 in 2015 to 66 in 2016. Hwang swiped 25 bases, the fourth time he stole at least 20 bags in a season.

Hwang said the San Francisco Giants were especially sold on his ability to maintain his power stroke -- he had 26 homers in 2015 -- while nearly halving his strikeouts.

"They told me they could clearly see I was getting better, and that I had potential to grow even more," Hwang said. "I know the team will be counting on me to provide some power. And I hope to take advantage of the assets that I have."

Hwang started out as a shortstop but has been a third baseman for the better part of his career. The Giants didn't get much production from their third basemen last year. Eduardo Nunez and Conor Gillaspie appear to be Hwang's major competition for the third base job.

Nunez, who came over from the Minnesota Twins in midseason, hit four homers with 20 RBIs and a .269 batting average in 50 games with his new club. Gillaspie batted .262 with six homers and 25 RBIs in 101 games last year.

South Korean baseball player Hwang Jae-gyun waves to the crowd gathered at Incheon International Airport before departing for the United States on Jan. 25, 2017. Hwang has signed with the San Francisco Giants. (Yonhap)

Hwang said he'll first have to see for himself what his teammates have to offer, but he will walk in with his head held high.

"I wouldn't have taken up the challenge (of trying to make the major league roster) unless I had confidence in myself," he said. "I'll focus on what I can do to help the team."

To prepare himself for a career in the majors, Hwang said he has been studying English for about a year and has also tweaked his swing to better attack big league fastballs.

One other adjustment he made was to stop flipping his bat after home runs. Hwang had been one of the KBO's most notorious bat flippers, but he has heeded advice from his ex-Lotte teammates with major league experience, such as Josh Lindblom and Jim Adduci.

Tossing the bat after long balls, while considered a par for the course in the KBO, is generally frowned upon in the majors, and such an act is usually followed by a fastball high and tight on hitters in their next at-bat.

"I didn't flip the bat once last year after those 27 home runs," Hwang said. "I know some guys have said flipping the bat is part of their swing, but you can actually stop doing it if you try."

If he joins the Giants' 25-man roster, Hwang will be in the same National League West division as fellow Korean player Ryu Hyun-jin, left-hander for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Asked if he was looking forward to facing the former KBO MVP, Hwang said, "It's not just Hyun-jin. I want to make the major league roster and face all the big league pitchers."

"The Giants are contending every year, and they're a prestigious organization," Hwang added. "I am grateful that they've given me the opportunity. I want to help the team as much as I can, and become a versatile player who can do everything well."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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