It’s always fun to keep an eye on familiar players who’ve taken their talents across the pond. Now that the 2019 season is in the books, it seemed an opportune time to check in. Numerous former big leaguers are playing abroad, many of them thriving in Asia’s top leagues.
We’ve seen foreign stints help spur big league revivals from quite a few players. Eric Thames, Miles Mikolas, and Chris Martin are among those that played significant roles in the 2019 MLB campaign. Whether any of the players covered below will do so remains to be seen, but there’s certainly a path.
Let’s start with the Korea Baseball Organization, the top league in South Korea. Remember, teams in the KBO and other leagues face limits on the number of non-native players they can employ. That creates a lot of pressure to secure big production from those roster spots, and often spurs mid-season change. (Statistics courtesy of the always excellent MyKBO.)
The top performers …
- Former Phillies slugger Darin Ruf marauded the KBO once again, though he wasn’t quite as awesome this year (.911 OPS, 22 home runs) as he was in 2018 (1.024 OPS, 33 home runs). After scoring with Ruf, the Samsung Lions went after Mac Williamson in a mid-season move. But Williamson failed to gain traction in his forty contests, hitting a tepid .273/.329/.409.
- Several other hitters joined Ruf as repeat KBO participants and star-level performers. Outfielder Jamie Romak has also now completed three excellent campaigns with the SK Wyverns. Like Ruf, he took a step back this year (1.001 OPS to .878 OPS), likely reflecting a KBO baseball de-juicing effort.
- After a brief but promising showing in 2018, Jerry Sands rewarded the Kiwoom Heroes for bringing him back by swatting 28 dingers and batting a robust .305/.400/.543 on the year. Jared Hoying wasn’t quite as productive, but turned in a solid sophomore campaign with the Hanwha Eagles (.284/.343/.460).
- The KT Wiz continued to benefit from their 2017 find of outfielder Mel Rojas Jr., who never got a big-league call-up from the Pirates or Braves. He slashed a robust .322/.384/.530 with 24 homers in his third KBO season.
Several KBO newcomers found something in their new organizations …
- Jose Miguel Fernandez took a difficult path to the majors and did not receive a lengthy opportunity at the game’s highest level, but displayed his intriguing blend of hitting ability with the Doosan Bears. Appearing in all 144 contests, Fernandez poked 15 long balls and slashed a hefty .344/.413/.483.
- The KIA Tigers dropped former Cardinals flash-in-the-pan outfielder Jeremy Hazelbaker after just eleven contests. That may have been a quick leash, but they ended up making out well with Preston Tucker. The former MLB reserve outfielder ultimately slashed .311/.382/.479 with nine home runs.
Other KBO organizations are likely to go back to the drawing board after cycling through multiple players …
- Another team changing horses in mid-stream was the LG Twins, who tired of former Phillies first bagger Tommy Joseph after he slashed .274/.335/.426 with nine long balls in 54 games. The club turned to another OBP-challenged slugger in the left-handed-hitting Carlos Peguero, who provided a bit more overall offense (.286/.333/.472) but no additional dingers (9) in his 57 appearances.
- Former Padres infielder Carlos Asuaje struggled in 49 games with the Lotte Giants, slashing just .252/.358/.368. He was replaced by Jacob Wilson, a former Cards and Nats farmhand, but Wilson wasn’t much more effective (.251/.352/.433 with nine home runs). (Wilson and Rojas were the only two hitters to appear in the KBO this year without prior MLB experience.)
- The NC Dinos opened the year with Christian Bethancourt behind the plate, but he didn’t do enough damage to hang onto his roster spot, with a .246/.311/.404 line in 53 games. That led to a mid-season change to former big league outfielder Jake Smolinski. Unfortunately, he managed only a .229/.301/.439 slash of his own.