His mentor, who had been marking him one-on-one for two years, and his role model, who always had good things to say, are gone. Jang Jae-young (21-Keum Heroes) is going it alone.
The past three years have been a time of learning and growth for Jang, who joined Kiwoom with the first pick in the 2021 rookie draft. While he wowed the professional scene with a fastball that reached a top speed of 156 kilometers per hour, his performance wasn’t quite what was expected when he was drafted, but he showed signs of improvement. In 2021, his rookie year, he pitched 19 games with a 9.17 ERA in 17⅔ innings, striking out 27 batters (24 walks and three hit batsmen) and walking none. In 2022, he posted a 7.71 ERA in 14 games with eight walks (seven hits and one hit batsman) and 19 strikeouts in 14 innings.
In his third year, he finally picked up his first professional win on July 5 against the NC Dinos in Gocheok. While he didn’t get any more wins, he set career highs in games pitched, innings pitched, and strikeouts, finishing the season with a 23-1 record, a 5.53 ERA, 74 strikeouts in 71⅔ innings pitched (66 hits, 8 walks), and 67 strikeouts.
Jang Jae-young, who was recently interviewed at the Kiwoom Charity Cafe, said, “This season was also lacking a lot. I won my first professional win and showed good performance for the first time (1.88 ERA in June), but it was a very disappointing season for me personally because I was not good at the end,” he said. “The best part of the year was finishing the season without any injuries. I wish I could have gotten on a roll when I was playing well, but I got greedy and had some bad games. I fell short a lot, but I also have memories of when I did well, so I’m preparing for next year by remembering my good routines after the season.”굿모닝토토
For Jang, 2024 will be another year like any other. Next year’s theme is “Standing Alone. His “mentor,” pitching coach Song Shin-young (46), and “role model,” Ahn Woo-jin (24), who were by his side giving him golden advice and encouragement, have left Kiwoom to become head coach of SSG Landers and join the military, respectively. Song had been Jang’s mental coach since the 2021 season’s final camp. It was said that his constant presence helped Jae-young recover faster after a loss, especially by helping him let go of his obsession with his trademark fastball.
“I knew my fastball was fast, so I had a tendency to start and finish with my fastball. But Coach Song told me to work the count with my changeup instead. He told me that if I catch the count with my changeup, which I throw well, and think of my fastball as a decoy, my head and mechanics will be simple. He helped me to think of everything in a simple way, and when I followed it, the results of my fastball were rather good and the count battle went well.”
Ahn was a good older brother to Jang, who shared how he dealt with the pressure of being a highly touted prospect in his first to third years. Jae-young used that advice to build something of his own. “I already got too much help from (Ahn) Woo-jin. So I didn’t take any new advice (about joining the military). Now, I’m trying a lot to change myself based on the help I’ve received from others, including my brother’s words,” he smiles.
They’re gone, but he’s still surrounded by people who want to help. “My biggest problem on the field was mind control, and the club opened up a good path for me in that regard, so I met a lot of university professors. Through that, I’ve been organizing my thoughts on my own and establishing ways to control my mind by turning my attention to other things when I’m stressed,” Jang said.
“The most memorable advice I received recently was from (Lee) Won-seok, who said, ‘People don’t care about you as much as you think they do’. He knew that I had been stressed out since I was a kid, and he said, ‘You don’t have to be. So don’t look at the manager, coach, or older brothers on the baseball field, and do what you want to do, Jang Jae-young, so you won’t have any regrets.’ I really appreciated his words,” he added.
Based on the advice, Jang Jae-young plans to use his current strengths rather than trying to do something better. “Rather than adding pitches, I’m going to maximize my strengths by having three pitches: fastball, curveball, and slider,” he said. “I think my first priority is to say, ‘I’m going to be a pitcher who can consistently throw five innings every game,’ rather than saying, ‘I’m going to be exceptional like my brother next year.’ This year was a year of disappointment for me as much as it was for the fans,” he said.
“However, I realized that there are still a lot of fans who expect me to do well, so I’m going to do my best so that they can say, ‘Jang Jae-young, we’ve been waiting for you,’ and I think that’s the best way I can help the team a little bit,” he said, looking forward to next year.