By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Jan. 4 (Yonhap) -- In a South Korean lineup for the upcoming World Baseball Classic (WBC) filled with left-handed batters, two veteran sluggers will be asked to provide some much-needed pop from the right side.
South Korea's 30-man roster for the March tournament, unveiled on Wednesday, features eight position players who bat left-handed, with infielder Tommy Edman being the lone switch hitter.
From the right side of the box, Choi Jeong of the SSG Landers and Park Byung-ho of the KT Wiz will likely be the primary sources of power. They also happen to be the home run leaders in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) in 2021 and 2022.
Choi, 35, had 35 homers in 2021 for his third career home run crown. The third baseman has reached double figures in home runs every year since 2006.
Park, 36, captured his fifth home run title last year by belting out 35 home runs. It was the first baseman's ninth consecutive KBO season with at least 20 home runs.
Both players were left off the national team for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, when then-manager Kim Kyung-moon went with younger and more athletic defenders at the corners at the expense of power. South Korea failed to win a medal at the six-nation competition, with Lee Kang-chul, Park's manager at the Wiz, taking the national team helm for the WBC.
Park is recovering from an ankle injury that plagued him late last season but Lee said Park should be ready for the WBC. That South Korea will play all preliminary games and potentially quarterfinal game at hitter-friendly Tokyo Dome should also work in the team's favor, Lee added.
"It's not such a big stadium and Park can deliver a big blast," Lee said. "And if he's fully healthy, he can handle first base duties, too."
Park is expected to share first base responsibilities with Choi Ji-man of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who is recovering from an offseason elbow surgery. Choi bats left handed and has long struggled against left-handed pitching in the majors.
Park and Choi are among a handful of veterans in their mid-30s who will likely be playing at their final WBC, joined by catcher Yang Eui-ji and outfielders Kim Hyun-soo and Na Sung-bum. If the old guards can't get it going, then it will be up to 20-something stars like Lee Jung-hoo, the reigning KBO MVP, and Kim Ha-seong, former KBO slugger who has turned into a defensive whiz for the San Diego Padres, to pick up the slack.