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(LEAD) Nat'l baseball team manager travels to Australia for WBC scouting trip

18:00 January 05, 2023

(ATTN: ADDS comments in paras 9-12, photos; UPDATES with manager's departure)
By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Jan. 5 (Yonhap) -- With an eye on taking the ever-important first game of a major baseball tournament in March, Lee Kang-chul, manager of the South Korean national team, flew to Australia on Thursday for a scouting trip.

Lee and four members of his coaching staff will be checking on Australian Baseball League (ABL) games through Sunday and arrive back home Monday.

Lee Kang-chul, manager of the South Korean national baseball team, speaks at a press conference announcing his 30-man roster for the World Baseball Classic at the Korea Baseball Organization headquarters in Seoul on Jan. 4, 2023. (Yonhap)

South Korea will face Australia in the first Pool B game of the World Baseball Classic (WBC) on March 9 at Tokyo Dome. South Korea will also face world No. 1 Japan, China and the Czech Republic in the preliminary round, with the top two teams advancing to the quarterfinals.

Lee has openly stated that the main focus for South Korea is on defeating Australia. In announcing South Korea's 30-man roster Wednesday, Lee said he selected groundball pitchers who throw sharp breaking balls because Australian hitters tend to struggle against such pitches. Lee also said South Korea's lineup will mostly be filled with left-handed batters because Australia has more right-handers than left-handers.

With Japan favored to win Pool B, South Korea and Australia will be vying for the one last ticket to the quarterfinals out of this group. China and the Czech Republic are considered also-rans in Pool B.

Lee Kang-chul, manager of the South Korean national baseball team, speaks to reporters at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, on Jan. 5, 2023, before departing for Australia on a scouting trip in preparation for the World Baseball Classic. (Yonhap)

If South Korea beats Australia, then it can still afford to lose to Japan because it will most likely beat the other two teams and finish with the second-best record in the group. If Australia falls to South Korea and then also loses to Japan, the best it can hope for is third place in Pool B.

Members of the South Korean national baseball team coaching staff prepare to leave Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, for Australia for a scouting trip ahead of the World Baseball Classic on Jan. 5, 2023. From left: advance scout Kim Jun-ki, coaches Shim Jae-hak and Jin Kab-yong, and manager Lee Kang-chul. (Yonhap)

However, if South Korea drops to Australia, it has to beat Japan just to have a shot at reaching the quarterfinals.

And that's no easy task, with major league stars, such as Shohei Ohtani and Yu Darvish, set to play for Japan. The team will also feature veterans from the domestic Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) league, considered a notch or two above the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO).

Before boarding his flight Thursday afternoon, Lee told reporters he had planned this scouting trip in November.

"Players who will likely make the Australian national team will play in ABL games this weekend," Lee said. "We'll keep a close eye on those players and think about who's going to be our starting pitcher in that first game."

Lee said he expects Australia to also go all-in on that opening game.

"We're going to cast a wide net and watch as many players as we can," Lee added. "You never know how things will turn out in a short tournament like this. They have some hard-throwing pitchers and it could be a close game."

In this file photo from Nov. 8, 2022, Lee Jung-hoo of the Kiwoom Heroes celebrates after hitting a solo home run against the SSG Landers during the top of the sixth inning of Game 6 of the Korean Series at Incheon SSG Landers Field in Incheon, some 30 kilometers west of Seoul. (Yonhap)

South Korea will try to get out of the first round for the first time since the second WBC in 2009, when it lost to Japan in extra innings in the final.

South Korea selected three major leaguers: San Diego Padres infielder Kim Ha-seong, Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Choi Ji-man and St. Louis Cardinals infielder Tommy Edman, who was born to an American father and a Korean mother.

The team also features four ex-major leaguers in SSG Landers pitcher Kim Kwang-hyun, Kia Tigers pitcher Yang Hyeon-jong, LG Twins outfielder Kim Hyun-soo and KT Wiz infielder Park Byung-ho.

The reigning KBO regular season MVP Lee Jung-hoo, who will be posted for major league clubs after the 2023 season, also made the team.

In this UPI file photo from Aug. 16, 2022, Tommy Edman of the St. Louis Cardinals smiles after hitting a solo home run against the Colorado Rockies during the bottom of the fourth inning of a Major League Baseball regular season game at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. (Yonhap)



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