Third baseman Jae-Gyun Hwang has asked his club, the Lotte Giants of the Korea Baseball Organization, to make him available to MLB teams via the posting process this offseason, reports Yonhap. The two sides were set to continue talking in recent days and weeks.
“Any baseball player would dream of playing in the majors,” said Hwang to Yonhap. “And I have been working hard to realize that dream myself. I’ve already signed on with an American management company … I wanted to keep a low profile, but when articles on (teammate Ah-Seop Son) mentioned my name, I decided to go public, too.”
Hwang, 28, is a right-handed hitting third baseman who is known for his power and bat flips. Here is one of his better bat flips (skip to the 0:46 mark if you’re impatient):
|All Levels (9 Seasons)||1057||4131||508||1024||197||22||88||481||148||76||336||707||.280||.343||.417||.761|
So far Hwang has only had one big power season, and he attributes his 2015 power spike to a new offseason training regime designed to add muscle. It’s worth noting his strikeout rate jumped from 15.0% from 2012-14 to 20.5% in 2015. That suggests some approach changes as well. It seems Hwang is swinging for the fences more often.
Inevitably, Hwang will be compared to Jung-Ho Kang, who was a smashing success for the Pirates this year. Kang was a consistent 20+ homer guy in Korea and he swatted 40 dingers in 2014. He struck out in 21.2% of his plate appearances in his final season in KBO, so his strikeout rate was in line with Hwang’s. Of course, he also hit way more homers too.
Our Sung-Min Kim tells me Hwang is considered a natural third baseman with a strong arm. He has played some shortstop in the past but works exclusively at the hot corner these days. Plenty of teams have scouted Hwang this year and the consensus is his plate discipline and approach are a bit worrisome, though that seems to be the case for all foreign position players.
The Giants do not have to post Hwang this offseason — MLB’s posting agreement with KBO is like the old posting system with NPB, meaning a blind bid and then a 30-day negotiating window — but they have incentive to do so because he will qualify for international free agency next offseason. They could either post him now and get gobs of money or lose him for nothing next year.
Kang is the first Korean position player to successfully transition to MLB through the posting system, and because of his success, I’m sure teams will spend some extra time evaluating Korean position players. There are 29 clubs right now who wish they had pursued Kang more aggressively. Hwang could benefit from Kang’s success simply because there figures to be more attention paid to position players in KBO now.
The best third baseman on the free agent market this offseason is David Freese, so yeah. Hwang figures to generate some interest. The Yankees have Chase Headley at third base, though they are said to be seeking a right-handed bat, so I suppose it’s not impossible they could trade Headley and bring in Hwang to play third. Unlikely? Oh sure. But not impossible. The Yankees will surely explore every option.
Given the lack of alternatives, I doubt the Yankees would have much trouble finding a taker for Headley, especially with only three years and $39M left on his contract. That’s nothing these days. I doubt the Yankees pursue Hwang this offseason, but he is an option that exists.