The Korea Baseball Organization is set to open its regular season on May 5, without fans in attendance, and is already in the midst of its second preseason training camp. There have been reported talks to bring KBO games to a North American audience, although at this point there’s no deal in place to allow MLB fans to tune in broad-reaching, accessible fashion.
Still, as baseball-starved fans hope for some ability to monitor those games, it seems worth a rundown of which former big leaguers will be suiting up in the KBO for fans around the world to follow — even if it’s in box scores and highlight clips only. Here’s a look at some names you might recognize in the 10-team league (with a hefty tip of the cap to the indispensable MyKBO.net and MyKBOstats.com)…
Doosan Bears (2019 record: 88-55-1)
- Jose Miguel Fernandez, 1B/DH: The 32-year-old Fernandez was a notable signing out of Cuba by the Dodgers but never got a look with his original club. He latched on with the 2018 Angels and appeared in 36 games before heading to the KBO, where he posted a massive .344/.409/.483 slash even in a year that saw a leaguewide decrease in offense.
- Raul Alcantara, RHP: Alcantara, 27, pitched with the Athletics in 2016-17. He notched a 4.01 ERA in 172 2/3 with the KT Wiz in Korea last season before inking a deal with the Bears this past winter.
- Chris Flexen, RHP: Flexen struggled with the Mets from 2017-19 before signing up for his first overseas stint this past season. He had some success with the Mets’ Triple-A club and averaged a strikeout per inning at that level.
SK Wyverns (88-55-1)
- Nick Kingham, RHP: The longtime Pirates top prospect never put it together in 131 2/3 big league innings, but he’s still just 28 years old. He’ll be an interesting name to monitor with regard to a future return.
- Ricardo Pinto, RHP: The 26-year-old spent time with the Phillies, Rays and Giants organizations but struggled in limited MLB time.
- Jamie Romak, 1B: The 33-year-old Romak only has 39 MLB plate appearances on his track record, but he’s become a consistent offensive force in the KBO, hitting .283/.376/.544 in three seasons with the Wyverns.
Kiwoom Heroes (86-57-1)
- ByungHo Park, 1B: Park’s big free-agent deal with the Minnesota Twins didn’t pan out, but he’s posted an OPS north of 1.000 since returning to the Heroes two seasons ago.
- Taylor Motter, INF/OF: The versatile 30-year-old didn’t hit much in 141 MLB games between the Rays, Mariners and Twins. He’ll hope for an overseas breakout in 2020.
- Jake Brigham, RHP: Brigham, 32, only got a brief look with the 2015 Braves, but he’s entering his fourth KBO season — his second with the Heroes. In a total of 501 1/3 KBO innings, he’s posted a 3.72 ERA with 7.2 K/9 against 2.2 BB/9.
- Eric Jokisch, LHP: An encouraging 2014 stint with the Cubs (three runs in 14 1/3 innings) never led to another MLB look for Jokisch, who bounced around the Triple-A circuit before turning in an impressive 3.13 ERA and 141-to-39 K/BB ratio in 181 1/3 frames in last year’s KBO debut.
LG Twins (79-64-1)
- Hyun-Soo Kim, OF: The former Oriole and Phillie returned to the KBO after a two-year MLB stint in 2016-17, signing a four-year, $10.7MM deal with LG. The “Hitting Machine,” as he was nicknamed in the KBO, posted an OPS north of 1.000 in his return and has largely picked up where he left off.
- Casey Kelly, RHP: The one-time star Red Sox prospect is now 30 years old and fresh off a 2.55 ERA, 6.3 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9 through 180 1/3 innings in his first KBO season.
- Tyler Wilson, RHP: Wilson, also 30, floundered through 145 innings with the Orioles before finding himself with the LG Twins, for whom he’s tossed 355 innings with a 2.99 ERA, 7.3 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9.
- Roberto Ramos, 1B: One of the few players on this list who never appeared in the Majors, the 25-year-old Ramos is a former Rockies prospect who signed on for his first season of Asian ball after hitting .309/.400/.580 in Triple-A last year.
NC Dinos (73-69-2)
- Aaron Altherr, OF: One of the more recognizable names on the list, Altherr at times looked like a budding star with the Phillies. He fizzled out after some notable injuries, though, and is will make his KBO debut at 29 this year.
- Mike Wright, RHP: Another former O’s hurler, Wright appeared in parts of five seasons with Baltimore. He had his share of success in Triple-A (3.76 ERA) but regularly struggled in the big leagues (6.00 ERA in 258 frames). He’s making his KBO debut this season as well.
- Drew Rucinski, RHP: The 31-year-old saw time with the Angels, Twins and most recently the Marlins (2018). He returns to the Dinos after pitching 177 2/3 frames of 3.05 ERA ball in 2019 (6.0 K/9, 2.3 BB/9).
KT Wiz (71-71-2)
- Odrisamer Despaigne, RHP: The 2020 season will be the first in the KBO for the 33-year-old Despaigne — a six-year MLB veteran who has tallied 363 innings in the big leagues.
- Jae-Gyun Hwang, 3B: The (San Francisco) Giants signed Hwang back in 2017 but never gave him a long look despite a memorable home run in his MLB debut. He’s a productive regular in the KBO once again, having signed a four-year, $7.9MM deal with the Wiz prior to the 2018 season.
- Mel Rojas Jr., OF: The 29-year-old Rojas never got a chance with the Pirates or Braves, and he’s now one of the KBO’s top hitters. In three seasons with the Wiz, Rojas has mashed at a .310/.377/.561 clip. He’s hit 30 homers in consecutive seasons.
- William Cuevas, RHP: Cuevas, 29, got a cup of coffee with both the Red Sox and Tigers before jumping to the KBO and posting a 3.62 ERA with 6.6 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 in 184 innings last year.
Kia Tigers (62-80-2)
- Preston Tucker, OF: The former Astros prospect had a hot start with the ’18 Braves but faded quickly. He’s set for a second season with the Tigers after hitting .311/.381/.479 in last year’s debut effort.
- Aaron Brooks, RHP: Brooks, 30 next week, pitched for the A’s, Royals and O’s between 2014-19 but struggled to a 6.49 ERA in 179 2/3 innings. He’s set for his KBO debut.
- Drew Gagnon, RHP: A third-round pick of the Brewers in 2011, Gagnon saw MLB action with the Mets in 2018-19 but performed poorly. He had a bit 2019 season in Triple-A (2.33 ERA in 88 2/3 innings), which helped attract interest overseas.
Samsung Lions (60-83-1)
- Seunghwan Oh, RHP: Oh enjoyed a quality four-year run with the Cardinals, Blue Jays and Rockies before undergoing elbow surgery last summer and heading back to the Lions, for whom he starred for nine seasons as one of the best relievers in league history (a tenure that earned him his incredible “Final Boss” nickname).
- Tyler Saladino, INF: The former White Sox utilityman saw MLB time with the Brewers in 2018-19 and now heads to South Korea for the first time at 30 years of age.
- David Buchanan, RHP: Buchanan hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since a 2014-15 run with the Phillies. He’s spent the past three seasons with Japan’s Yakult Swallows, working to a 4.07 ERA in 433 innings — mostly working as a starter.
- Ben Lively, RHP: A prospect of some note for a bit with the Phillies, Lively had a solid MLB debut in ’17 but never further established himself. He gave the Lions 57 innings of 3.95 ERA ball after signing midseason in 2019.
Hanwha Eagles (58-86)
- Jared Hoying, OF: Hoying barely got a look with the Rangers in 2016-17, but he’s compiled a .296/.355/.519 slash in two seasons with the Eagles so far.
- Warwick Saupold, RHP: The Aussie hurler managed a 4.98 ERA in three seasons with the Tigers before taking his 80-grade name to the KBO. In last year’s 192-inning debut, he logged a 3.51 ERA.
- Chad Bell, LHP: Bell and Saupold were teammates with the Tigers. Both debuted in the KBO last year, and Bell’s 3.50 ERA is a near-identical match to his longtime teammate.
Lotte Giants (48-93-3)
- Dan Straily, RHP: The most accomplished pitcher on this list, Straily racked up 495 1/3 innings of 4.03 ERA ball with the Reds and Marlins from 2016-18 before his production fell off a cliff in 2019. He’ll hope to rebound on a one-year, $1MM deal with the Giants.
- Dae-ho Lee, 1B: The 37-year-old slugger came to the Majors for one season with the 2016 Mariners before returning to Korea on a four-year, $12.9MM contract that represented the largest deal in KBO history at the time. Lee’s bat faded in 2019, but he mashed 37 homers with a .987 OPS in 2018.
- Adrian Sampson, RHP: The 31-year-old comes to the Giants for his own KBO debut with a solid Triple-A track record but an ugly 5.71 ERA in 153 MLB innings.
- Dixon Machado, INF: Yet another former Tiger, Machado spent 2019 with the Cubs’ Triple-A club, where he hit .261/.371/.480 before agreeing to a deal with Lotte this winter.