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S. Korean manager takes long view ahead of inaugural baseball tournament

All Headlines 17:17 November 05, 2017

SEOUL, Nov. 5 (Yonhap) -- South Korean national baseball manager Sun Dong-yol said Sunday he's taking the long view with his squad ahead of an inaugural international tournament later this month.

Sun will lead a team of 25 players to the Asia Professional Baseball Championship (APBC), which will go on from Nov. 16 to 19 in Tokyo. It will feature pros from South Korea, Japan and Chinese Taipei under 24 years of age -- born on or after Jan. 1, 1993 -- or those with less than three years of professional experience.

The countries were each allowed to select up to three players over that age limit as their "wild cards" but Sun elected not to use that option, unlike the other two nations.

South Korean national baseball manager Sun Dong-yol (L) speaks at a press conference at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul on Nov. 5, 2017, ahead of the upcoming Asia Professional Baseball Championship in Tokyo. (Yonhap)

At a press conference on Sunday, Sun defended his decision, saying he wants to give the current group of young players as much experience as possible.

"Japan and Chinese Taipei may have become stronger with their wild cards, but we didn't assemble the national team just for this tournament," Sun said at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul, where the national team had its first practice. "We also considered next year's Asian Games and the Olympic Games (in 2020 in Tokyo). These 25 players represent the future of South Korean baseball. If possible, I'd like to take these same 25 players to the Olympics."

South Korea will practice at both Jamsil and Gocheok Sky Dome, the nation's only domed baseball stadium, in Seoul through Nov. 13. The national team will play practice games against the Nexen Heroes, the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) club based at Gocheok, on Wednesday and Friday. Another tune-up game has been scheduled against the minor league team from the National Police Agency next Sunday.

"You don't really improve your skills during practice; the important thing is to stay sharp," Sun said. "Hopefully, our players will be able to reach peak form during these three games. We'll train with a focus on defense. But individually, these guys are no less talented than the players from Japan or Chinese Taipei."

South Korea will open the tournament at 7 p.m. on Nov. 16 against Japan. It will then face Chinese Taipei at 7 p.m. the following day. After Japan plays Chinese Taipei on Nov. 18, the top two nations from the round robin action will square off in the final at 6 p.m. on Nov. 19. All games will be at Tokyo Dome.

Sun said he hasn't settled on a starter for the opening game, and he'll go with the hot hand after three practice games.

South Korean outfielder Lee Jung-hoo (L) poses with his father and national team coach Lee Jong-beom at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul on Nov. 5, 2017, during practice for the upcoming Asia Professional Baseball Championship in Tokyo. (Yonhap)

"In previous KBO postseasons, young pitchers with good stuff often failed to pitch to the best of their abilities," the manager said. "But this year, young pitchers all performed well. We have five starting pitchers and we'll set up the rotation based on how well they pitch in practice games."

Even before finalizing his roster last month, Sun lamented a lack of serviceable catchers. He went with a pair of 23-year-olds who play second or third string on their clubs, Han Seung-taek of the Kia Tigers and Jang Seung-hyun of the Doosan Bears.

"If they continue to get big-game experience, they'll develop into strong catchers," Sun said.

Sun will still have some talented bats in other positions. Rookie sensation Lee Jung-hoo, center fielder for the Heroes, will likely bat leadoff and try to set the table for big bats behind him.

South Korean captain Koo Ja-wook speaks at a press conference at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul on Nov. 5, 2017, ahead of the upcoming Asia Professional Baseball Championship in Tokyo. (Yonhap)

The 19-year-old is a virtual lock to win the KBO's Rookie of the Year, after setting freshman records with 179 hits and 111 runs this year.

Lee's father, a former KBO legend Lee Jong-beom, will be a base running coach on the national team.

"My father has been telling me to wear the national flag with pride," the junior Lee said. "I'll try to represent the country the best I can on and off the field."

The 2015 Rookie of the Year, Koo Ja-wook of the Samsung Lions, will serve as captain. The outfielder/first baseman is coming off the best power season of his young career, with new personal-highs of 21 home runs, 39 doubles and 107 RBIs.

"It puts a lot of pressure on my shoulders to be captain," Koo said. "Everyone is close with each other on this team, and our manager has helped create a good atmosphere. I'll do my best whether I play in the outfield or at first base."

Members of the South Korean national baseball team for the upcoming Asia Professional Baseball Championship in Tokyo pose for a group photo at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul on Nov. 5, 2017. (Yonhap)


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