SEOUL, Jan. 4 (Yonhap) -- Kiwoom Heroes outfielder Lee Jung-hoo is widely considered the best hitter in South Korean baseball today. But why is he working on a swing change and potentially messing with success?
For one, Lee, who will be posted for Major League Baseball (MLB) clubs after the 2023 season, wants to prepare himself against big league pitchers. And two, since this could be his final season in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), Lee wants to win a Korean Series title with the Heroes and leave on a high note.
It's a scary proposition for opposing KBO pitchers if Lee, who won the 2022 regular season MVP after leading the league in batting average (.349), hits (193), RBIs (113), on-base percentage (.421) and slugging percentage (.575), can somehow get better.
"I am working on a swing change for the first time in my career," Lee, the 2017 Rookie of the Year, said in a phone conversation with Yonhap News Agency on Tuesday. "I made a few attempts in the past but gave up. This time, I am going all in."
Though Lee is still a full season away from being eligible for posting, he has already told the Heroes that he'd like to play in the majors next year via posting and the club gave him the green light Monday. Lee has been drawing attention of major league scouts for a couple of years already, if not more, and teams have now been officially put on notice.
Having clearly stated his desire to take his talent to the big show, Lee can now focus on taking the next step on the field.
"I've decided to change my swing because I've had difficulty against pitchers with a quick delivery or those who take extra time between pitches," Lee said. "Also, MLB pitchers throw fastballs with a lot of movements. I am trying to keep that in mind."
In the batter's box, Lee holds his bat high, with the knob reaching his ear level. He said he wants to simplify his mechanics so that the barrel of the bat doesn't go back as deep as it does now when he's ready to swing.
The World Baseball Classic (WBC) in March will be Lee's first international showcase since going public with his big league dreams, but Lee said he is also worried that the tournament may disrupt his preparation for the new season.
In a typical year, Lee would be working on his new swing through scrimmages and exhibition games in February and March, and that would give him enough time to get his new mechanics ready for the start of the regular season. This time, though, he will be playing competitive games in the early days of March.
But Lee chose to look on the brighter side, saying, "If I play well there with my new swing, then it will mean a whole new opportunity."
Lee said he also believes his new swing can take the Heroes over the hump and to the pinnacle of the KBO for the first time. Last year, they defied all preseason expectations to reach the Korean Series, where they pushed the regular season champions SSG Landers hard before losing in six games.
"I am also working on a swing change because I want to play better and help the team win a championship this year," Lee said. "Winning a title with the team absolutely comes first, and MLB comes after that."
Lee said he is grateful for everything the Heroes have done for him and added he couldn't have become the player that he is today without them.
"I wasn't all that special in high school. I just knew how to put the bat on the ball a little bit. But this team saw the potential in me," Lee said. "I've reached a point where I can dream of playing in the majors thanks to the team's player development plans. And the team didn't have to agree to post me. I am really thankful for all their support."
Lee said the best way he can reward the Heroes for their support is to bring them a championship trophy.
"Honestly, this could be my final season in the KBO, and I hope it is," Lee said. "I'd like to reward the team with a title."
Lee is the son of KBO legend Lee Jong-beom, one of the league's most complete players who had a remarkable combination of power, contact ability, speed and defense. The son had first thought about playing in Japan, just as his father had done, but started dreaming bigger after the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, when South Korea failed to reach the podium in a six-nation tournament.
"After the Olympics, I decided I should try to play in the majors," Lee said. "And if I didn't play well last year, I wouldn't have been able to say with confidence that I wanted to challenge myself in the big leagues. Following that successful season, I made up my mind once and for all."
Lee has been training with his former Heroes teammate and current San Diego Padres infielder Kim Ha-seong, hitting the weights in the morning and taking swings in the afternoon. Lee is scheduled to travel to Los Angeles to continue his individual workouts and then join the Heroes in February in Arizona for spring training.
Lee said his father, who is now a coach for the LG Twins, has been fully supportive of his choice.
"My parents told me, 'This is your life. Do everything you want to do, and make sure you don't have regrets in the end,'" the junior Lee said.