“It’s a shame that Ryu Hyun-jin came because he’s the No. 1 overall pick.”… You can’t use Hwang Joon-seo? Hanwha’s breakthrough

Hanwha Eagles coach Choi Won-ho talked about rookie left-handed pitcher Hwang Joon-seo (19), ahead of an exhibition game against the Doosan Bears in Daejeon on Wednesday. After graduating from Jangchung High School, Hwang joined Hanwha as the first overall pick in the first round of the rookie draft in 2024. Hwang was 185 centimeters tall and weighed 78 kilograms, and had a skinny physique, so he still needed to build up his body, but he liked the weapons he possessed. He drew attention by using a splitter, which left-handers rarely use, as a weapon on fast balls around the late 140 kilometers per hour. When he took the mound, he showed strong gut and game management skills that were not rookie players, making Choi laugh. Up until the spring camp in Melbourne, Australia, Choi had Hwang Joon-seo in mind as the fifth starter.핑크알바

However, two variables emerged. One was the return of ace pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin (37). The Hanwha Eagles signed Ryu in mid-April with a total of 17 billion won (17 million U.S. dollars) for eight years. The deal was the highest in KBO history. While agonizing over staying in the U.S. Major League, Ryu decided to return to Korea to keep his promise that he would return to Hanwha when he is healthy. He boasts 78 wins in the big leagues, and was the ace with 98 wins in the Hanwha Eagles from 2006 to 2012 before he challenged the Major League. When taking the ransom into account, Ryu naturally had to take the responsibility of starting the first game this year.

Choi had planned to fix only three starting pitchers through Felix Peña, Ricardo Sanchez and Moon Dong-ju, and decide the remaining two spots while watching the competition, but one spot was completely filled due to Ryu’s joining. As the competition for fourth and fifth starting pitchers has shifted to fifth starting pitchers, the space for Korean starting pitchers has naturally narrowed down. Still, up until the early days of the Okinawa spring camp in Japan, Hwang Joon-seo remained in Choi’s mind.

The second variable was Kim Min-woo’s rise. As he took responsibility for his 14th win in 2021, Kim emerged as the new ace in Korea. He was the first pitcher with 10 wins in 10 years since Ryu Hyun-jin in 2011. However, in 2022, he was sluggish in 29 games with 6 wins and 11 losses, 163 innings and 4.36 ERA, and last year, he ended the season with a shoulder injury, experiencing ups and downs for the second consecutive year. As a result, he spent his own money to go to individual training to the U.S. this winter and struggled to increase his ball speed, but the fruits of his efforts began to be seen from the Okinawa camp. Since early March, he has elevated his fastball’s maximum speed to 147 kilometers, earning assessments that his ball power has improved.

Before confirming the starting rotation for the season, Kim Min-woo said, “I can’t do this much. I didn’t make that much effort when I went to the U.S. to throw this much in practice and exhibition games. I still have to do more. I don’t know how much I have to do to be satisfied. The first thing is to get into the starting lineup. Then, I think I can set a bigger goal. I think I have to continue to do well and protest in front of the coach.”

Hwang Joon-seo had no choice but to watch the opportunity return to his senior, who was ahead of him in both experience and skills. Choi finalized the opening rotation for Ryu Hyun-jin, Peña, Kim Min-woo, Sanchez and Moon Dong-ju. Moon was originally scheduled to start as the third starter, but he changed the order because he did not have enough time to increase the number of pitches as he was selected by Team Korea, which was set up for practice matches with the San Diego Padres and LA Dodgers in the U.S. Major League Baseball during the exhibition game. Moon Dong-ju will start the game against the second division of the Samsung Lions in Gyeongsan on the 22nd and throw 70 pitches, and will make his first appearance of the regular season against the SSG Landers in Incheon on the 28th. Kim Min-woo, who had good pace until the exhibition game, was promoted to the third starter.

Choi said, “I think (Kim) Min-woo is in the best condition. I thought about when I would use him. I scheduled Sanchez to start as the fourth starting pitcher from the beginning, and the date came when Min-woo could throw (third starting pitcher). (Moon) Dong-ju still had to throw around 80, but he threw the most balls at around 53. I can’t miss the fourth inning after starting the game. Fortunately, Min-woo is in good condition, so I decided to change the two.”

It is now unclear whether Hwang will join the opening game regardless of whether he will use the bullpen or not. As a player to be nurtured as a starting pitcher, he can think of ways to take starting classes in the second division and come in as an alternative starting pitcher if he has a chance. Still, it is regrettable for the club to have the most promising players in the second division take starting classes.

Choi said, “I think we need to have discussions with the club. The club should also think about whether to use it directly as a bullpen, after taking starting classes at Futures League, or only when there is a hole in the starting line-up. It’s okay to use it as a starting pitcher from the beginning, but Kim Min-woo showed really good performance. Hwang Joon-seo is a player who is likely to throw well, and Kim Min-woo has a history of throwing well. Then, it is right to use Kim Min-woo first. If it doesn’t work well later, Hwang might come in, and the order should be that way.”

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