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By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Sept. 10 (Yonhap) -- Former Chicago Cubs pitching prospect Rhee Dae-eun was selected first overall in the annual South Korean pro baseball draft on Monday.
The KT Wiz picked the 29-year-old right-hander with their top pick in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) draft in Seoul.
Those who finished high school in South Korea and played for foreign professional clubs without having competed in the KBO were eligible for the draft, as long as their first pro contract expired before Jan. 31, 2017.
Rhee signed with the Cubs in 2007 out of high school and spent seven seasons in the Cubs' minor leagues. He never pitched in the majors and only got as far as Triple-A in 2014.
Rhee compiled a 40-37 record with a 4.08 ERA in 135 minor league appearances. He also spent two seasons with the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), and represented South Korea at the inaugural Premier 12 tournament in 2015 and the World Baseball Classic in 2017.
He's completing his mandatory military service while pitching for the National Police Agency team in the second-tier Futures League. Rhee is scheduled to be discharged later this month.
With the Futures League club, Rhee has gone 5-6 with a save in 18 appearances, while posting a 3.83 ERA in 89 1/3 innings.
"I'd like to thank the Wiz for selecting me, and I'll try to live up to the club's expectations," Rhee said. "I'll try to become the type of player that the team always needs."
Another former Cubs prospect, infielder Lee Hak-ju, went No. 2 overall to the Samsung Lions.
Once a highly touted defensive whiz at shortstop, Lee, 27, was plagued by a series of injuries and also never got past Triple-A. Most recently, Lee played in 47 games for the San Francisco Giants' Triple-A affiliate in Sacramento, batting .265 with three homers and 12 RBIs.
In eight minor league seasons, Lee batted .269 with 23 homers, 209 RBIs and 169 steals in 678 games.
"It's an honor to be picked by the Lions," Lee said. "I am really looking forward to next year. I hope I can help the ball club."
Left-handed pitcher Yoon Jeong-hyeon, who had a cup of coffee in the Baltimore Orioles system, was the fourth overall pick by the Nexen Heroes.
The 26-year-old was an eighth-round KBO draft pick by the Lotte Giants in 2012 but chose to pursue collegiate studies instead. He dropped out of Dongguk University in Seoul during his freshman year so he could sign with the Orioles.
Yoon appeared in 20 games in the rookie league and low-A ball, going 2-4 with a 3.55 ERA over 58 1/3 innings.
A third ex-Cubs product, outfielder Ha Jae-hoon, was drafted in the second round, 16th overall, by the SK Wyverns.
Rhee, Lee and Ha were teammates on the Boise Hawks, the Cubs' low-A affiliate, in 2009. Ha batted .265 with 38 homers and 288 RBIs in seven minor league seasons, which included a brief stint in Triple-A in 2013 and 2014.
Ha played in 17 games for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows in the NPB in 2016 and most recently played independent ball in Japan.
With the third overall pick, the Hanwha Eagles selected high school third baseman Noh Si-hwan. A product of Kyungnam High School in Busan, 450 kilometers southeast of Seoul, Noh has slashed .397/.484/.692 with four home runs and 22 RBIs in 21 games so far this year. Noh has batted cleanup in each of those games, and even made three appearances on the mound. He was 1-0 and didn't give up any run in 3 1/3 innings.
Lee Sang-young, a left-hander from Busan High School in Busan, was the top hurler to be chosen out of a local high school, as he went to the LG Twins with the fifth overall pick.
Lee has compiled a 3-2 record and a 3.50 ERA over 35 2/3 innings in 11 games so far in 2018. He has struck out 46 and walked 17, while allowing just one home run.
With the last pick in the first round, the defending champions Kia Tigers went with Hong Won-bin, a right-hander from Duksoo High School in Seoul.
Hong has a 5-1 record and a 2.08 ERA in 25 2/3 innings this year. He has struck out 16 while walking 19 and hitting five batters.
The teams selected six pitchers and four infielders in the first round.
There were 20 college players selected. Yeungnam University's right-hander Lee Sang-dong was the top collegiate pick at 31st overall.
By positions, there were 55 pitchers, 26 infielders, 10 catchers and nine outfielders.
One of the catchers was former Oakland Athletics prospect Kim Seong-min. The 25-year-old bounced between the rookie league and low-A ball from 2012 to 2015, while batting .225 with nine homers and 42 RBIs in 95 games.
The draft was held in reverse order of the 2017 regular season standings, meaning the KT Wiz had the top pick, followed by the Samsung Lions, the Hanwha Eagles and so forth. The Kia Tigers picked last. Each of the 10 clubs was allowed to select up to 10 players.
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