For a while after Son Ju-in (40-retired) left for the Samsung Lions in 2018, LG’s second base was like the last puzzle that couldn’t be solved. They brought in a foreign player (Lobel Garcia) and even a former MVP second baseman (Seo Geon-chang), but nothing came of it. However, after the arrival of Yoon Kyung-yeop (55), Kim Min-sung (35) and Shin Min-jae (27) showed their skills late in the season, and even reserve prospects are still hitting, showing signs of being solved with internal resources.
The strength of LG, which finished the first half of the 2023 season in first place, is its unstoppable batting lineup, which leads the team in batting average (0.285) and on-base percentage (0.373). When lined up by OPS (on-base percentage + slugging percentage), LG has three players in the top 10 in the league (Hong Chang-ki, Park Dong-won, and Austin Dean) and seven in the top 30, including Moon Sung-joo (17th), Moon Bo-kyung (22nd), Kim Hyun-soo (27th), and Oh Ji-hwan (28th). As a result, LG finished the first half of the season in first place with a dominant +19 win-loss margin, even with a somewhat up-and-down starting lineup.
However, the All-Star break brought some bad news. An injury to Kim Min-seong, who has made the leap to starting second base this season. After being plagued by injuries and slumps since joining LG in 2019, Kim settled in at second base this year and has been a salt-of-the-earth performer with a .288 batting average, four home runs, 31 RBIs, a .364 on-base percentage, and a .408 slugging percentage in 70 games. However, he was injured while fielding against the KT Wiz in Jamsil on May 5, and the next day, on June 6, he was removed from the first team roster with a strained left thigh muscle and is expected to miss over a month. For now, Shin Min-jae is filling in nicely with a .344 batting average and .754 OPS, but he hasn’t played a full season since turning pro in 2015, so a backup plan is essential.
There is a silver lining to all of this. Namely, Lee Ju-hyung (22), who was named a Futures League All-Star this season. The former Song Soo-cho (Haeundae Daelitl), Centum Middle and Gyeongnam High School graduate was selected by LG with the 13th overall pick in the second round of the 2020 Rookie Draft. A starter at second base since his days at Gyeongnam High School, Lee showed off his exceptional talent at the plate and was touted as a prospect to end the second base drought, which had been a consistent weakness for the LG franchise. However, he was consistently criticized for his second base defense and eventually resolved his military issues.
The much-anticipated offense hasn’t been a problem since he returned to active duty. In his first season with the Futures this year, he is batting .323 (30-for-93) with three home runs, 18 RBIs, a .441 on-base percentage and a .559 slugging percentage. In three consecutive seasons in the Futures League, including one before his military enlistment, he hit .335 with 11 home runs, 63 RBIs, 21 doubles, a .454 on-base percentage and a .561 slugging percentage. As one KBO club official put it, “He’s proven himself at the second level as far as hitting goes.”
Currently, he is receiving sporadic opportunities in the first team and is slowly adjusting, batting .308 (13-for-4) with two RBIs, a .357 on-base percentage and a .462 slugging percentage in 15 games. “I think my performance has improved naturally because I realized the direction I need to go in the first team,” Lee said before the 2023 KBO Futures League All-Star Game at Sajik Baseball Stadium in Busan on April 14, explaining the reason for his steady hitting after a year and a half away.
The smooth adjustment was helped by seniors such as Kim Hyun-soo (35) and Kim Min-sung. Lee said, “The first-team pitchers have a lot of pitches and good control, so they try to actively put the bat down before the count gets out of hand. When the ball is in the strike zone, we are practicing to make an in-play,” said Lee. “The seniors told me that if you miss the first pitch, you’re at a disadvantage. They told me that the first thing is to keep batting from the first pitch and find your timing, so I try to make the first pitch foul and adjust my timing. Kim Hyun-soo teaches me well, and (Kim) Min-sung teaches me a lot of details on the hitting side. I learned a lot from her,” he added.
He has also found a solution in his defense at second base, where he hasn’t received many opportunities despite his good hitting. According to Lee, until he was discharged from active military service in February this year, his future position was outfield. However, after seeing improvements in his defense and feeling much better about the defensive pressure than he had in the past, Yeom Kyung-yup and the coaching staff decided to switch him back to the infield. As a result, after playing only outfield in the Futures League until May this season (22 games), he started four of the seven games he played in June as the starting second baseman 먹튀검증.
“After I was discharged from the military, both I and the club were thinking of playing the outfield, but as I started playing, I felt more comfortable with the defense that was burdening me, and my skills improved more than before, so the manager and coach told me to practice the infield with confidence in the Futures games,” Lee said. “Right now, I’m not at the level to play in the first team, so I think it’s right to combine the outfield and infield in case I need to play as a pinch-hitter or outfield fielder. I think I’ll focus on the infield once we get to the final camp,” he said of his future plans.