Lotte Giants outfielder Son Sung-bin started at catcher and batted eighth in the lineup for the team’s 12th home game of the 2023 Shinhan Bank SOL KBO League against the Hanwha Eagles at Sajik Stadium in Busan on Monday, going 1-for-4 with one home run, one RBI, and one run scored in the team’s 3-0 victory.
Son was Lotte’s first-round pick in the 2021 First-Year Player Draft and made a short but strong impact in his rookie season, appearing in 20 games for the first team and batting .316 with a .725 OPS in six at-bats. At the time, Lotte didn’t have a starting catcher, but there were plenty of players vying for the job, and Lotte decided it was better to get Son’s military service out of the way quickly than to let him gain experience.
In his first year in the organization, Son thrived in the Futures League, hitting .285 OPS with 39 hits, one home run, 31 RBIs, 30 runs scored, and a .831 batting average in 69 games, and this year he was promoted after hitting .330 OPS with one home run, 24 RBIs, 15 runs scored, and a .882 batting average in 29 games. The Giants had high hopes for the youngster, as he made significant strides in the second team, and called him up to the first team upon his return.
Son’s “impact” was certainly impressive. After failing to produce a single hit in the early stages of his call-up, Sohn burst onto the scene with a five-hit, .385 batting average in July and continued his hot streak in August with a .313 batting average. Despite the uneven playing time, he really showed off his talent. Even more impressive was his defense, especially his stolen bases.
After 28 days of play, Son has thrown out eight out of nine runners for a stolen base rate of 0.875, which is the highest of any catcher in the KBO, despite the small sample size. On several occasions, Son has shown off his ‘strong dog’ and short ‘pop time’ to throw out runners, much to the admiration of the KBO legends on the sidelines. As a result, runners have begun to look over his shoulder and no longer try to steal bases as easily.
While his batting performance hasn’t been bad, his defense has garnered more attention, and on the 28th, he showed off his ‘one-hit’ ability. On this day, Son didn’t have much luck against Hanwha starter Ricardo Sanchez, as he grounded out to second base in his first at-bat and to shortstop in his second. In his third at-bat, however, he wasn’t done.
In the bottom of the seventh inning with a 2-0 lead and the bases loaded, Son didn’t miss Sanchez’s second pitch, a 149-kilometer fastball. The pitch was just outside the strike zone, and Son swung wildly at it, hitting the “sweet spot,” sending it over the left-field fence at a whopping 165.9 mph, traveling 125 meters and never coming back. The first home run in his KBO debut. The home run gave Lotte the lead, and they went on to win 3-0, igniting a fight for the fifth spot.굿모닝토토
When we caught up with him after the game, he said, “It was exhilarating!” and added, “I didn’t realize it took so long to get around the bases. Sanchez threw so well today. I was late on two pitches in a row, so I had to keep my focus and not be late, and the moment I hit it, I knew it was a home run,” he smiled.
Throughout the game, Son was thinking, “What would it be like to hit a home run?” and it became a reality. “It’s definitely different from my home runs in the second team,” he said, “I was imagining it while playing today. There were a lot of fans at the start of the game, so I thought, ‘It would be great to hit a home run and get cheers,’ and I did,” he said, adding, “I don’t often think about this, but today I did it unintentionally, and it became a reality.” He was happy.
When Son Sung-bin walked into the dugout after his home run, the Lotte players congratulated him with an indifference ceremony. “It was a home run from 2-0 to 3-0, so I knew they would respond. Normally, I don’t congratulate them at first and then later, but my seniors said, ‘Let’s not do it. Let’s change it,’ but they didn’t,” he said, recalling the embarrassing situation, “but they did congratulate me at the end.”
In addition to shining at the plate, Son worked well with Charlie Barnes, who struck out nine batters in six innings of work. “I wouldn’t say I worked well with Barnes, but he throws so well. I was just there to support him, but he pitched so well that it was good,” he said.
He’s had a lot of experiences in his professional career, including his first hit, RBI, and stolen base, but there’s no denying that his first home run was the most exhilarating. “I think home runs are the best,” he said with a smile. “There were a lot of fans here today, and I’m glad that the team was able to win the game and that I hit a home run. I will try to become a player who can help Lotte continue to win,” he emphasized.
It’s been four years since he wore a professional uniform, but it was definitely a day to remember for Son.