We’re nearing the start of the 2020 season for the Korea Baseball Organization, whose campaign will begin at 1 a.m. ET on Tuesday with fives games set to take place. If you’re still awake then, you’ll be able to catch the NC Dinos-Samsung Lions matchup on ESPN, which reached a broadcast deal with the KBO on Monday. As MLBTR’s Steve Adams pointed out a couple weeks ago, both teams feature some familiar faces. Ex-major leaguers Aaron Altherr, Mike Wright and Drew Rucinski are members of the Dinos, and Seunghwan Oh, Tyler Saladino, David Buchanan and Ben Lively are on the Lions’ roster. If you want to learn more about those two teams and the rest of the league’s other clubs, check out this in-depth primer from ESPN.com.
With that, we’ll dive into some more baseball notes out of Asia…
- The right-handed Rucinski, who will start the Dinos’ opener, appeared in the majors with the Angels, Twins and Marlins from 2014-18. He immigrated to the KBO prior to last season and wound up recording an impressive 3.05 ERA over 177 1/3 innings. Rucinski spoke with Kyle Glaser of Baseball America (podcast) about what life is currently like in the KBO, whose season will get underway without spectators. “It’s kind of weird because the fans are such a big part of the game here,” said Rucinski, who has tossed two exhibition games without anyone in attendance. That’s just one of the topics covered in their chat (coronavirus precautions and family life are also among them). The interview’s worth a full listen.
- Shifting to Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball, Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks righty Carter Stewart discussed his experience abroad with Kyodo News and the Japan Baseball Weekly Podcast. Stewart was the eighth overall pick of the Braves in 2018, but he was unable to reach an agreement with them, so he decided to sign in Asia last year. The 20-year-old indicated that he’s pleased with his choice. “I think the baseball is fantastic over here,” Stewart said. “I really enjoy the fan base. I enjoy the people. I enjoy everything about it, so what is the driving factor for me to go back home? Maybe at some point I’ll have an opportunity to go back to the States, but I have no restraints for staying over here until I’m 50.”
- Looking ahead to major league free agency next offseason, infielder/outfielder Neftali Soto could be a name to keep in mind. Soto was a 2007 third-round pick of the Reds who has not produced in the majors, but he mashed in the minors with the Nationals in 2017 and has carried that into NPB. Since signing with the Yokohoma Baystars before the 2018 season, Soto has batted .288/.355/.594 with a whopping 84 home runs in 1,043 trips to the plate. He’s a back-to-back HR champion, having amassed 41 two years ago and 43 in 2019. Between those numbers and his defensive versatility, he could find himself on MLB teams’ radars in the offseason.