Although he is 33 years old, SSG Landers in 2023 has a player as expected as a prospect. This is Ha Jae-hoon (33), who has been in his second year of full-time as a hitter this year. 스포츠토토
Ha Jae-hoon built a unique career after graduating from Masan Yongma High School. He challenged the American stage through the Chicago Cubs in 2008 and accumulated various experiences for six years, including trying to switch positions from an outfielder to a pitcher in the minor leagues.
After going through the Japanese independent league, he also experienced Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) through the Yakult Swallows, and was nominated by SK (now SSG) with the 16th overall in the 2nd round of the 2019 KBO Rookie Draft, and returned to Korea after 11 years. . It was impressive from the first year of his debut. He took on the finishing touch and won the KBO Salvation King with 61 games, 5 wins, 3 losses, 3 holds, 36 saves, and an ERA of 1.98.
For the next two years, he struggled with shoulder pain and turned to hitter last year. Ha Jae-hoon played mainly as a left fielder and recorded a batting average of 0.215, 6 home runs and 13 RBIs, an on-base percentage of 0.246 and a slugging percentage of 0.458 in 60 games. He showed the power to jump over the fence once caught, but he showed a poor starting pitching plan with 4 walks and 40 strikeouts, and struggled against right-handed pitchers with a batting average of 0.143 and an OPS (on-base percentage + slugging percentage) of 0.452, like any ‘new right-handed hitter’.
However, the first season of hitter Ha Jae-hoon is also valuable in that it showed his potential as a long hit that challenged the U.S. 15 years ago. As a hitter in his 14th year as a pro, he was no different from a late-born prospect by KBO standards. Usually, rookie right-handed hitters struggle for at least two to three years due to the difference in level between amateur and professional right-handed pitchers. Even in training, right-handed hitters have a slightly higher level of difficulty than left-handed hitters who are easier to deal with right-handed pitchers.
To make up for the lack of experience, Ha Jae-hoon headed to Geelong Korea in the Australian Baseball League (ABL). There, he had a league-leading performance, bombing with a batting average of .306 in 21 games, 11 homers, 18 RBIs, 4 stolen bases, an on-base percentage of 0.354, a slugging percentage of 0.792, and an OPS of 1.146. Although it is difficult to say that his starting pitching outlook has improved significantly with 6 walks and 16 strikeouts, he showed improved coping skills, hitting 5 or more home runs against right-handed pitchers. Recording 11 home runs in 17 games, including 4 home runs in a row against tough but powerful Australian pitchers, is good news for SSG, which was thirsty for a ‘right hitter’.
Ha Jae-hoon was included in the list of SSG spring camps departing for the United States from the first selection team on the 25th. It is highly likely that this season will start as a designated hitter along with Choo Shin-soo (41) as a right-handed pitcher. This is because left fielder Guillermo Heredia (32), center fielder Choi Ji-hoon (26), right fielder Hanyu-seom (35) are the starting pitchers, and Kim Kang-min (41) and Oh Tae-gon (32) are already established as backups in the outfield.
However, no one knows if Ha Jae-hoon will occupy a spot in the SSG Landers Field outfield at the end of the 2023 season. In this season’s KBO League, the importance of right-handed hitters has increased compared to last year, as 14 out of 19 foreign pitcher slots (excluding NC, which have not yet selected one) are filled with right-handed pitchers.
On the other hand, SSG has no resources other than Choi Jeong (36). Heredia, a new foreign batter, also has a career slugging percentage of 0.346 in the major leagues and 0.382 in the minor leagues, so he is not a player who is expected to hit. In such a situation, if Ha Jae-hoon, who already showed potential with a batting average of 0.294 and OPS 0.980 against left-handed pitchers last year, shows above-league performance even against right-handed pitchers and satisfies the thirst for right-handed hitters, there is a good chance that he will become a starting outfielder.