SEOUL, Feb. 22 (Yonhap) -- The manager of the South Korean national baseball team began his weeklong scouting trip to Japan on Friday, with his eyes set on young arms who can help the country qualify for next year's Olympics.
Kim Kyung-moon left for Okinawa along with his analytics coach Kim Pyoung-ho and national team technical director Kim Si-jin.
From Saturday to next Tuesday, they will attend spring training games by five Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) clubs, and then check in on six Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) teams that are holding camp there.
South Korea is gearing up for the Nov. 2-17 Premier 12, the first qualifying event for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics. Japan has already qualified for the Olympics as the host country. And the top team from the Asia/Oceania region that ranks among the top six in the 12-nation tournament will also secure a spot at Tokyo 2020.
South Korea, world No. 3, will host Group C games against Cuba (No. 5), Australia (No. 7) and Canada (No. 10) at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul.
Kim, who coached South Korea to the most recent Olympic baseball gold medal in 2008, said he was pleased with the draw, though he won't take any opponent lightly.
Kim added his focus during the trip will be on pitchers.
"I'll try to identify young pitchers that I think can help the team," Kim told reporters at Incheon International Airport. "But it's only February and it's still early. I'll take my time watching a lot of games before making roster decisions."
At the Premier 12, the top two teams from each of the three groups in the preliminary stage will advance to the Super Round. The No. 1-ranked Japan is in Group B with No. 4 Chinese Taipei, No. 9 Venezuela and No. 11 Puerto Rico, and is a potential opponent for South Korea in the Super Round.
"So much has changed with the Japanese national team compared to 10 years ago," Kim said. "I'll keep an eye on players who could make their national team."
During the trip, Kim said he'll also speak with managers of the KBO clubs and ask for their cooperation in preparing for the Premier 12.
He will return home March 1, but coach Kim Pyoung-ho will stay in Japan to scout other Japanese clubs in Miyazaki and Fukuoka, the KBO said.
The manager will fly back to Japan on March 7. He will watch the Yomiuri Giants and the Orix Buffaloes at Kyocera Dome in Osaka on March 8, and then stay in Osaka to see Japan face Mexico for two games at the same venue on March 9 and 10.
In Osaka, Lee Seung-yuop, a member of the national team technical committee and a former NPB slugger, will join Kim.
Baseball at Tokyo 2020 will feature six nations. The World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) said if no team from Asia or Oceania finishes among the top six of the Premier 12, that Olympic slot will be deferred to the last Olympic qualifier.
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