Padres interested in KBO outfielder Jung-Hoo Lee

Credit: Japan Times

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The San Diego Padres will be interested in Korean outfielder Jung-Hoo Lee.

Improving the consistency of the Padres’ offense next season is a goal for A.J. Preller and his staff.

A free agent out of Korea could be the answer for the Padres this winter.

Left-handed hitting center fielder Jung-Hoo Lee is set for free agency this off-season and should have several suitors for his services. The Padres are known to have an interest in the 25-year-old outfielder and have scouted him in the past. EVT learned this week that the Padres do intend to negotiate with Lee. “We are interested. He is talented, and we are already discussing him internally,” a Padres official confirmed this week.

Lee currently plays for the Kiwoom Heroes of the KBO League. The Heroes announced in January that Jung-Hoo Lee would be posted for MLB clubs after the 2023 season. There has been little news about the posting process, and it still seems highly likely that the Heroes will indeed post him this winter and allow him to explore playing MLB.

The 2023 season was cut short for Lee, as he fractured his ankle and has not played since late July. The injury should not affect his free agency, as his skill set is well-recognized.

Lee has an elite bat and impressive bat-to-ball skills. He struck out only 32 times in 142 regular season games during the 2022 season while walking 66 times. That season, he put up a .349/.421/.575 batting line with 23 homers and 113 RBIs and was recognized as the best player in the league, winning the KBO League MVP. In seven seasons in Korea, Lee owns a .340/407/.491 slash line in 884 games and 3,947 plate appearances.

The former teammate of Ha-Seong Kim has connections to San Diego and would fit in perfectly in the middle of the Padres lineup.

A link to Kim and the fact the Padres are flirting with Lee does make you wonder about Juan Soto moving forward. This week, it is being reported by several outlets that the Padres are exploring dealing their star player. The Padres’ front office is getting frustrated with the lack of momentum gained in a possible extension for the outfielder in San Diego. “We are exploring all options,” a source within the team explained to EVT.

Credit: KBO

KBO hitters have not traditionally fared well in the States, but Ha-Seong Kim did very well last season adjusting to major league pitching. Adding Lee to the lineup could help offset the loss of Juan Soto if the Padres decide to go that route. Kim is expected to get at or around what the Red Sox paid for Masatake Yoshida last winter (five-year/$90 million).

It may take some time for Lee’s numbers to be replicated in the States, but he comes with a nice upside. The outfielder has walked more than he has struck out in five consecutive seasons. The power was evident in 2022 for Lee, but he is not regarded as a home run hitter. His swing is fluid and level, and there are he has no issues catching up to fastballs. Though, the KBO player has seldom seen the velocity he will see at the major league level.

Lee is the son of Jong-Beom Lee, a former KBO league MVP. His father enjoyed a  19-year professional career, so there is a high baseball IQ from this young player. Lee is nicknamed “Grandson of the Wind,” which comes from the fact his father was named “Son of the Wind” throughout Korea for his style of play. The elder Lee still holds the KBO record for stolen bases with 84 in a season. Jung Hoo Lee doesn’t quite have his father’s speed, as he has stolen 69 bases in his seven-year career in the KBO.

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Defensively, the right-handed throwing outfielder is regarded as a plus defender with the ability to stick in center field. He has plus speed and a decent arm. That definitely increases his value on the open market, as the center field position does not traditionally come with a lot of offensive upside. At the age of 25, there is belief that Lee can improve his game at multiple levels. Major league coaching could unlock even more potential from this young player.

The Padres are surely interested in Lee, but he will be in high demand.

With some financial issues, it will be interesting to see if the Padres can pay top dollar for his services. Ha-Seong Kim certainly gives the Padres an advantage in signing Lee, but the outfielder will likely take the best deal available for him. Whether or not that is San Diego remains to be seen.

Stay tuned. It will be an interesting winter in San Diego.

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