The long, long season is over. Once again this year, the Hanwha Eagles’ season came to a swift end after failing to take a single step forward in 144 games. They weren’t even in the supporting cast of fall baseball, which is enjoyed by half of the 10 teams.굿모닝토토
58 wins, 80 losses, 6 ties, .420 winning percentage, 9th place. It’s hard to be happy about avoiding last place for the fourth year in a row.
Still, there are fans who can chant “Happy Eagles”. It’s not because they’ve been tamed by Hanwha’s losses. It’s because the team has made gains that aren’t apparent from their performance.
Hanwha was already used to being in the bottom half of the standings before the arrival of “superstar” Ryu Hyun-jin. But the presence of a star made a big difference. Ryu was a monster in his debut season, winning both the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards.
There was also Kim Tae-gyun, who, although he never won an MVP award, won the batting title and home run title while playing exclusively for Hanwha and was a national ace. He was a source of pride for Hanwha fans despite the team’s lackluster performance.
But in the 16 years since Ryu Hyun-jin, there hasn’t been a Rookie of the Year winner, and there hasn’t been much to show for it. Jeong Eun-won won the Golden Glove for second base in 2021, but he hasn’t been a dominant player in the league since.
Moon Dong-joo (right) and Noh Si-hwan, two of the key pieces of the 2023 APBC team.
For Hanwha fans, this season was different. Moon Dong-ju, 20, who joined the team with high expectations and had a disappointing season last year due to injuries and poor performance, was Hanwha’s top pitching commodity this season. In April, he became the first Korean pitcher to throw a 160-kilometer-per-hour “lightning fastball,” and he remained steady throughout the season, posting an 8-8 record with a 3.72 ERA in 23 games and 118⅔ innings pitched.
The team took extraordinary care of him when he was injured. Choi Won-ho imposed a 120-inning limit on Moon Dong-ju. After finishing his season early, Moon was the ace of the show at the Hangzhou Asian Games, where he led South Korea to its fourth consecutive gold medal. His joy was compounded by the fact that he completed his military service with dignity. He is considered the favorite to win the team’s first Rookie of the Year award in 17 years.
Among the batters, Noh Si-hwan (23) shined. After making his debut in 2019 and showing promise as a big-league prospect, Noh has come into his own this season. He batted .298 with 31 home runs, 101 RBIs, and a .541 on-base percentage, and won the home run and RBI titles. He is Hanwha’s third home run king after Jang Jong-hoon and Kim Tae-kyun, and is the only candidate to compete with NC Dinos foreign pitcher Eric Peddy for MVP. Along with Moon Dong-ju, he also won the hearts of Hanwha fans with his stellar performance at the Asian Games.
But that’s not all. Although somewhat overshadowed by Moon Dong-joo, Moon Hyun-bin (19) has also been one of Hanwha’s bright spots this season. Born and raised in Daejeon, Moon hit .266 in 137 games despite being a high school rookie. His batting average was second on the team among hitters with regular at-bats. He was named to the 2023 Asian Professional Baseball Championship (APBC) roster alongside Moon Dong-joo and Noh Si-hwan. He proved his versatility by playing more games in the outfield as well as his primary position in the infield.
Add to that Kim Seo-hyun (19), who had a bit of a rough go of it this season, but is just as fast as Moon Dong-joo, and there’s a lot to look forward to next season. Like Moon, Hanwha fans and officials are confident that he will improve in his second year. He only pitched 22⅓ innings in the first team this season, so if he can excel next year, he could be in the running for the Rookie of the Year award.
Another gem is Hwang Jun-seo (18). With the first overall pick in the rookie draft, Hanwha selected Jang Chung-go pitcher Hwang Jun-seo. The 6-foot-2, 187-pounder has a curveball, splitter, and slider, along with a fastball that tops out at 150 kilometers per hour. In his high school career, he went 9-4 with a 1.93 ERA and 132 strikeouts in 112 1/3 innings in 31 games. He’s a left-hander who can balance Moon Dong-joo and Kim Seo-hyun, giving Hanwha more options on the mound.
There is also talk of Ryu Hyun-jin returning to Korea after signing a four-year, $80 million (10.44 billion won) contract with the Toronto Blue Jays. Ryu headed to the U.S. via the posting system after the 2012 season. If he chooses to return home, Hanwha would have priority. Ryu promised to return to Korea to play for his hometown team before retiring, and Hanwha fans are hoping that next year will be the time.
Even setting aside the realistic possibility of a return, Hanwha has enough young and promising players to have a promising future even if Ryu doesn’t necessarily join his hometown team next season. Add to that the fact that the secondary draft will be held on April 22, the first time it has been held in four years. It’s a great opportunity for Hanwha, which doesn’t have a strong roster, to add to it efficiently.
It’s also the first season that Choi Won-ho, who took the helm midway through the season and led the team to its eighth straight win in 18 years, has had a proper spring training. Add in the help of foreign batters, who have been underrepresented this season, and it’s entirely possible that Hanwha’s 2024 season won’t end at 144 games.