With Kim Ha-seong‘s latest success as the Padres SS, KBO’s best young stars could join him stateside soon as well.
Among these young studs is CF Lee Jung-hoo, the reigning KBO MVP has expressed his desire to be posted by the Kiwoom Heroes after the 2023 season, joining Kim and others should follow him after.
Each KBO team has atleast one guy you should keep an eye on, either for the 2023 season, or when they are ready to play in America.
Here are KBO’s Best Young Stars, one player for each team:
- Player must be 25-years old or younger.
- Player must have some KBO experience.
All stats are from MyKbostats.com
Hanwha Eagles – 3B Roh Si-Hwan
Playing for the seemingly perennial bottom-feeders Hanwha Eagles, the former 3rd overall pick in 2019, 3B Roh Si-hwan has been a consistent source of production for the lackluster lineup representing the city of Daejeon.
The 22-year old batted .281/.355/.382 in 490PA in 2022 after batting .271 with 18HR in 2021.
While the Eagles have a lot of young talent on their roster, but no one has proven themselves just yet.
Doosan Bears – SS Jeon Min-jae
Known for developing their talent, the Bears took a massive step back last season. Finishing 60-82 (.423) and in 9th place, It’s clear the Bears are in the midst of a rebuild.
The Bears do not have a proven star aged 25 or under, but an intriguing name to follow is SS Jeon Min-jae.
The 23-year old shortstop was a 4th round pick in 2018, and while Jeon has only appeared in 58 games in his career so far, with 59PA since his debut in 2018, he did appear in 35 games in 2022, hitting .289 for the year and he projects to get a larger role in 2023.
The Bears may have an upcoming SS whom they can develop into a star long term, and I fully expect him to start on opening day in 2023.
Lotte Giants – 3B Han Dong-hui
In what is expected to be a breakout campaign in 2023 for the Lotte Giants, they will be losing superstar, and franchise icon, Lee Dae-ho to retirement.
Looking to expand on a breakout 2022 campaign, former regional 1st round pick 3B Han Dong-hui batted .307/.359/.458 in 499PA in 2022, good for a .817OPS.
With 14 HR this last past season, the Giants will be relying even more on Han this upcoming season and are hoping he can reach the 20 HR mark in 2023.
Samsung Lions – 2B Kim Ji-chan
While the Lions suprised everyone in 2021, finishing tied for 1st place in the regular season, they unfortunately took a step back in 2022, finishing 7th.
Surrounded by an old veteran core and still looking at a long term rebuild, the Lions finally started to develop younger talent, getting solid results from their young players in 2022, but the player who stood out the most was 2B Kim Ji-chan.
The 21-year old Chan was a 2nd round pick (15th overall) in 2020 and has impressed most with his speed as well as his bat.
While Chan is not going to go yard too often, he’s a great table setter at the top of any lineup.
Despite hitting only 2 HR in 1052 PA in his career, Chan makes it up with great baserunning, swiping 25SB in 2022 , and is already up to 69SB in just three seasons.
It seems the Lions found themselves a potential star for the next decade in their middle infield.
NC Dinos – LHP Koo Chang-mo
A no brainer here, no introduction needed for superstar and Dinos ace Koo Chang-mo.
The former 3rd overall pick in 2015, Koo is 25-years old and is barely eligible for this list, projecting as a crucial piece to the Dinos potential success in 2023.
The leader of a talented and deep Dinos pitching staff, Koo is a bonafide ace every 5 days.
Although Koo got injured in 2021 and only pitched in 93 innings in 2020, he didn’t lose a beat when returning in 2022.
After a 2020 campaign with a 1.74ERA, the korean southpaw returned from injury in 2022 strong, tossing 111IP with just a 2.10ERA.
When combining Koo’s 2020 and 2022 season (which is essentially one full season), you get 34 GS, 205 IP, with a 1.92 ERA, which are elite numbers.
The Dinos ace has MLB potential and it’s just a matter of health and if he wants to come. While he just signed an 8-year contract extension with NC, the whole world will have the chance to watch Koo light it up in March’s World Baseball Classic.
Kia Tigers – LHP Lee Eui-lee
The young up and coming Tigers managed a successful season in 2022, just scraping into the playoffs with a 70-73 (.490) record.
Looking into 2023, once again the Tigers will be relying even more on the development of their future ace Lee Eui-lee.
The 20-year old regional 1st round pick back in 2021 has already finished two full seasons in the KBO.
In two seasons, Lee has 248IP with a 3.76 ERA. The left-handed Lee focuses on his Fastball/Slider/Curveball mix, but he does have a changeup as well in which he used a lot more in 2021 compared to 2022.
Even though Lee tends to struggle in the first inning at times, once he gets going he’s a completely different pitcher and one to watch for in March’s WBC for South Korea.
KT Wiz – 1B Kang Baek-ho
Coming off an injury plagued 2022 season and just started to pick it up at the end of the rgular season and playoffs, Kang Baek-ho is ready to show once again the elite talent he is in 2023.
The 23-year old former 1st overall draft pick in 2018, Kang is looking to show his worth in the upcoming WBC, as well as in the 2023 KBO season, if he is aiming to come to the MLB one day.
With MLB potential and being eligible for international posting in 2025, Kang is known for his elite bat at 1B, he has also previously dabbled in the outfield, backstop and even pitching.
Kang is 6’0 216lbs, he profiles as more of a contact hitter than a power hitter. With a career high 29HR his rookie year while he was just 18, Kang is more known for his 15-20 HR seasons, while batting over .300 with ease.
With a career slashline of .317/.399/.506, Kang is still highly regarded even after this past season was well below his standards with a .683OPS, Kang is arguably the best player in KBO when healthy.
Kiwoom Heroes – CF Lee Jung-hoo
You may about know the Heroes for Kim Ha-seong, the Padres SS who who previously played in Seoul for the Heroes before heading to MLB. You should also know who Lee Jung-hoo is, as he might be even better than Kim.
While many will argue who is the best player in KBO, Lee has been nothing but a superstar since day one.
Drafted as a regional 1st round pick, Lee came into the scene batting .324/.407/.417 as an 18 year old, the current 24-year old is coming off his best season yet.
Batting .349/.421/.575 for a .996 OPS, Lee is nearly a true 5-tool gem. While Lee has an elite eye at the plate and can hit nearly any pitch he wants, and has been working on improving his biggest weakness which is his power.
Despite that, Lee just hit 23 HR this past season and is on pace to keep getting stronger as the years advance.
There is nothing Lee can’t do, including speaking english, as he prepares for a massive bidding war in the 2023 MLB Offseason, when he eligible for MLB through the posting system.
LG Twins – RHP Go Woo-suk
It’s time to talk about one of the biggest weakness in KBO organizations, or what’s also known as the Twins biggest strength, their bullpen.
The vaunted Twins bullpen is led by superstar CL Go Woo-suk, the 24-year old former regional 1st round pick is looking to add onto his resume before potentially joining the MLB in the near future.
Go is without question the best bullpen arm in the KBO.
With a 1.48 ERA, 42/44SV in 60IP this past season, Go has proven himself as a proven commodity after his career started very slow.
With a 4.50 ERA as a rookie, he then regressed to a 5.91 ERA in his sophomore year in 2019, Go eventually found his elite pitch mix of a FB/SL/CT/CB/CU.
While Go rarely uses his changeup, and has used his slider less and less as the years have went by, Go still relies on his elite Fastball/Slider/Curveball combo.
There is no doubt he can reach the MLB if he so desires, as a high leverage arm his stuff is filthy and he just might find himself as a big league closer one day.
SSG Landers – CF Choi Ji-hoon
The chances to win a ring without a breakout star are entirely possible, but every good team has that one young player they rely on in clutch moments, and for the Landers that was a breakout campaign from 25-year old former 3rd round pick CF Choi Ji-hoon.
After his first two seasons, starting at age 23, Choi batted an acceptable .260, but that changed in 2022.
The Landers breakout star commanded CF everyday and batted .304/.362/.427 with 10HR and 31SB.
Choi is a player to watch in March for the WBC, as he might start in the OF for South Korea.