Moon Dong-joo missing, another young gun…Hanwha picks 10 candidates to start next year’s survival bid

The season of homegrown ace Moon Dong-ju (20, Korea) has come to an early end. In Moon’s absence, another youngster gets a chance. It’s time to get a head start on the competition for the starting job next season.

Moon ended his season on March 3 against Jamsil LG Electronics (3 runs in 4⅓ innings). Moon, who started pitching in earnest in his sophomore year of high school, did not have a long history as a pitcher, and the club set an innings limit to manage him. The limit was 120 innings, and Moon ended the season with an 8-8 record in 23 games (118⅔ innings) with a 3.72 ERA and 95 strikeouts. Not bad for a Rookie of the Year candidate.

Now, Moon will travel to Seosan to prepare for the Hangzhou Asian Games, which are scheduled to begin on March 22. While Moon’s season is over, Hanwha still has 33 games left to play. In the next five weeks, other pitchers will have a chance to take Moon’s place. Hanwha head coach Choi Won-ho has mentioned Nam Ji-min and Kim Ki-jung as possible alternate starters.

Nam Ji-min, the eighth overall pick in the 2020 second round, is a right-hander who started 20 games last year and throws a fastball up to 153 mph, but has struggled this year, going 1-5 with a 7.56 ERA in 12 games (four starts and 25 innings). He’s been hit hard with a monotonous pitch mix, but he’s still got a lot of upside, so it’s hard to give up on him.

Left-hander Kim Ki-joong, the second overall pick in the 2021 first round, started the season in the bullpen. He went 1-0 with a 4.82 ERA in 30 games (28 innings) in the first team. He was sent down to the second team in late June before transitioning to the starting rotation. In five starts in the Futures League, he went 1-1 with a 4.50 ERA. One of the few left-handed starting options in the organization.

The performance of the two pitchers for the rest of the season will be crucial to Hanwha’s starting rotation next year. Between the two foreign pitchers, Moon Dong-joo, and Lee Tae-yang, who has been pitching better since making the switch from all-weather pitcher to starter, there is still one spot left for the four starters. The plan is to settle on 10 starters, with a backup for any unforeseen circumstances.

Choi Won-ho said, “In planning for next year, we need to prioritize 10 starters. We need to look at Kim Min-woo and Kim Seo-hyun (who are rehabbing from injuries) in the education league and the final camp, and we also need to see how the rookie pitcher who comes in as the No. 1 pick compares to the existing players.”

Kim Min-woo, who was the team’s No. 1 starter for three years from 2020 to 2022 with the most innings pitched by a Korean pitcher, was sidelined in mid-June with a shoulder triceps injury. He is rehabbing in Seosan and will participate in the Miyazaki Education League in Japan after the season to regain his feel for the game. He will be accompanied by rookie fireballer Kim Seo-hyun, who has been experiencing growing pains with his pitches.메이저놀이터

I’m also interested in the new rookie pitchers. High school right-hander Jang Hyun-seok (Yongmago) signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers and decided to try his luck in the U.S., but left-hander Hwang Jun-seo (Jang Chung-go) is likely to be the first overall pick in the 2024 KBO Rookie Draft on April 14. Hwang Jun-seo’s potential will be closely checked in the final camp.

Then there’s Han Seung-ju, who showed promise as a middle reliever this season and was given a chance to start. Han has been solid in 39 games (2 starts – 53⅔ innings) this season, going 1-0, 2-2 with a 3.35 ERA, and recently broke into the starting rotation. His start was delayed due to a rainout, but he will start against SSG on May 5.

With Moon Dong-joo’s season ending, Han Seung-ju should receive ample opportunities to start for the foreseeable future. Along with Nam Ji-min and Kim Ki-jung, he could have a leg up on the competition for the starting job next year, depending on how he pitches the rest of the season.

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