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Ex-nat'l team 2B Jeong Keun-woo switches teams in KBO's 'Rule 5' draft

Sports 16:32 November 20, 2019

SEOUL, Nov. 20 (Yonhap) -- Former national baseball team mainstay Jeong Keun-woo will switch clubs for next season following the South Korean-style "Rule 5" draft on Wednesday.

Jeong was selected by the LG Twins in the secondary draft by the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), after spending the past six seasons with the Hanwha Eagles. A 2005 draft pick by the SK Wyverns, Jeong will enter his 16th season in 2020.

In this file photo from July 7, 2019, Jeong Keun-woo of the Hanwha Eagles heads home after hitting a solo shot against the KT Wiz in the bottom of the fifth inning of a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game at Hanwha Life Eagles Park in Daejeon, 160 kilometers south of Seoul. (Yonhap)

Before this draft, the KBO's 10 clubs each made a list of 40 protected players, and they could select up to three players from all other teams who weren't on that protected list.

The secondary draft has been held every other year since its introduction in 2011. It's mostly designed to prevent teams from hoarding young players in the minors when those prospects could be playing in the KBO for other franchises.

It's similar to the Rule 5 draft in Major League Baseball (MLB), where players who have been with the same team for four to five years but who are not currently on the team's 40-man roster are eligible to be selected by other clubs.

It's rare for a veteran of Jeong's stature -- a 37-year-old utility player on decline after multiple All-Star selections -- to be moved at the secondary draft. The Eagles explained that they wanted to protect some of their younger players as they look to rebuild for the future, and Jeong was the victim of a numbers game.

The longtime second baseman has been pushed out of that position by younger players, and he kept bouncing between first base and the outfield in 2019. But the Eagles would like to develop their prospects at those positions as well, and Jeong himself acknowledged on Wednesday he had an inkling that he'd been left off the protected list.

This photo provided by the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) shows officials of the league's 10 clubs attending the biennial secondary draft in Seoul on Nov. 20, 2019. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

It's a sudden fall from grace for one of the top second basemen of his generation, a stellar defensive player who has often hit for high average with occasional pop and base-stealing abilities. He helped South Korea win the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2015 World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) Premier12.

Jeong is only three years removed from setting career highs with 18 home runs, 88 RBIs, 121 runs scored and 22 steals. Jeong has a lifetime batting average of .303 and ranks fourth among all active players with 1,840 career hits.

In 2019, Jeong appeared in 88 games, batting .278 -- his worst in seven years -- with three home runs, 30 RBIs and eight steals.

The Twins said Jeong will help bolster their infield and that they could always use a right-handed contact hitter in their lineup.

Among other notable selections in Wednesday's draft, Lotte Giants' infielder Chae Tae-in was picked by the Wyverns, while Kia Tigers' reliever Kim Se-hyun also went to the Wyverns.

Chae, a former Boston Red Sox minor league prospect, had 15 home runs and 75 RBIs in 130 games last year for the Giants, but was limited to just 59 games this year and put up five homers and 29 RBIs.

Kim was the closer for the Tigers during their 2017 Korean Series championship run. In 2019, Kim pitched in only 10 games and had a 6.23 ERA in 8 2/3 innings.

In this file photo from May 29, 2019, Chae Tae-in of the Lotte Giants gets a base hit against the NC Dinos in the top of the eighth inning of a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game at Changwon NC Park in Changwon, 400 kilometers southeast of Seoul. (Yonhap)

The Giants had the first overall pick on Wednesday and used it on former Wyverns' outfielder Choi Min-jae. The 25-year-old appeared in only one KBO game in 2019. In the Futures League -- the KBO's minor league -- Choi batted .345 with 16 steals in 52 games.

There were three rounds of the draft: A first-round pick costs teams 300 million won (US$256,510), a second rounder 200 million won and a third rounder 100 million won.

Only four clubs used their picks for all three rounds on Wednesday. The Kiwoom Heroes and the Doosan Bears didn't make any selections.

In all, 18 players were chosen, down from 26 in 2017.

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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