By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Sept. 3 (Yonhap) -- Some of the biggest stars in the domestic league headlined South Korea's provisional roster for an Olympic baseball qualifying tournament announced on Tuesday, while the country's major leaguers were left off.
The Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) unveiled the 60-man roster for the 2019 World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) Premier 12. There were 28 pitchers, five catchers, 15 infielders and 12 outfielders. Only those on the provisional roster will be eligible for the final squad of 28, which must be submitted to the WBSC by Oct. 3.
Managed by Kim Kyung-moon, South Korea will host Group C games for the Premier 12, which will double as the first qualifying tournament for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The Premier 12 features the top 12 countries in the world rankings. South Korea is the top-ranked nation in Group C at No. 3, followed by Cuba (No. 5), Australia (No. 7) and Canada (No. 10).
South Korea is the defending Olympic champion. Baseball was last contested in Beijing in 2008 and was left off the program for the two subsequent Olympics before returning to the fold for 2020.
Some of the usual suspects include Kiwoom Heroes first baseman Park Byung-ho, a two-time KBO MVP and the current league leader in home runs with 29, and NC Dinos catcher Yang Eui-ji, who leads the league in batting average (.364), on-base percentage (.446) and slugging percentage (.582).
Two of the league's top left-handers, Yang Hyeon-jong of the Kia Tigers and Kim Kwang-hyun of the SK Wyverns, also made the provisional roster.
Yang leads all South Korean pitchers with a 2.40 ERA, a remarkable turnaround after posting an 8.01 ERA in his first six starts. Yang has gone 4-0 with a 0.43 ERA in six games since the All-Star break.
Kim boasts a 2.54 ERA and is tops among homegrown pitchers with 15 victories. Kim was part of the 2008 Olympic gold medal team.
With players on the 40-man roster in the majors not eligible for the Premier 12, none of South Korea's current three big leaguers -- Ryu Hyun-jin of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Choo Shin-soo of the Texas Rangers and Choi Ji-man of the Tampa Bay Rays -- got the call.
The KBO said it would take an injury to a player on the provisional roster or a change of stance by Major League Baseball for those big leaguers to make the national team.
The dozen participating nations at the Premier 12 have been divided into three groups of four. The Group A teams are No. 2 USA, No. 6 Mexico, No. 8 Netherlands and No. 12 Dominican Republic. Their games will take place in Guadalajara, Mexico.
In Group B, world No. 1 and Olympic host Japan will face Chinese Taipei (No. 4), Venezuela (No. 9) and Puerto Rico (No. 11) in Taichung, Chinese Taipei.
The top two teams from each group will advance to the six-team Super Round, to be played at Zozo Marine Stadium in Chiba and Tokyo Dome in Tokyo. The iconic dome stadium in Tokyo will also host the championship final.
Baseball at Tokyo 2020 will feature six nations. The top finisher from the Americas and the top country from the Asia/Oceania region that qualify for the Super Round at the Premier 12 will earn direct entries into Tokyo 2020. Japan is already in the Olympics as the host nation.
This means South Korea has to rank among the top six and finish ahead of Australia and Chinese Taipei at the Premier 12 to punch a ticket to Tokyo.
All Group C games will be played at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul. South Korea will open the qualifying campaign against Australia on Nov. 6, followed by Canada on Nov. 7 and Cuba on Nov. 8. All games will begin at 7 p.m.
If no team from Asia or Oceania finishes among the top six at the Premier 12, that Olympic slot will be deferred to the last Olympic qualifying tournament.
The WBSC will organize separate qualifiers for Africa/Europe and the Americas regions. The WBSC's intercontinental qualifier, featuring six teams, will be the final opportunity for countries to book spots at Tokyo 2020. That event will feature the runner-up from the Africa/Europe qualifier, the second- and third-place finishers from the Americas qualifier, the two best finishers from the 2019 Asian Championship that haven't already qualified for the Olympics and the winner of the Oceania qualifier.
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