“Everyone said we were weak, so our catchers were stimulated a lot.”

The negative gaze towards the KIA Tigers power is mainly focused on the catchers. Last year, it seemed to fill the vacancy of the main catcher by recruiting catcher Park Dong-won, a “preliminary free agent,” through a trade, but when the FA market opened, Park Dong-won left for LG. However, KIA did not recruit a catcher in the free agent market.

Instead, right before Park Dong-won left, he traded with Kiwoom. Giwoom gave the 2024 rookie round 2 pick up and hired Joo Hyo-sang (26), a promising catcher. It was a recruitment in preparation for Park Dong-won’s departure, and now he has become a candidate to fill Park Dong-won’s void. 먹튀검증

After graduating from Seoul High School in 2016, he was a potential catcher who joined as the first choice. At the time of his joining, his ability to stop stealing based on his strong dog caught the eye. As a right-handed left-handed hitter, he was evaluated as having the potential to develop into a mid-to-long-distance hitter. 

However, after his professional debut, his progress did not stand out very much. He received opportunities as a foreign pitcher’s exclusive catcher, but he was unable to beat the main catchers such as Park Dong-won and Lee Ji-young, and did not have much competitiveness compared to backup Kim Jae-hyun. It is difficult to see that he has grown as much as expected. During his career at Kiwoom, he had a batting average of 203 in 237 games (73 hits in 359 bats), 2 homers, 36 RBIs, and an OPS of .546. He showed a relatively excellent aspect in his expected stolen base. His stealing rate during his training days wasn’t bad at 3 1/2 (29 interceptions / 92 attempts). 

After the 2020 season, he enlisted in the active military, and in September of last year, at the end of his service period, he underwent elbow ligament joint surgery. After that, he was traded to KIA. When Jang Jeong-seok was coaching Kiwoom, he believed in his potential and used him steadily, and brought him in to fill the catcher’s depth. From the KIA point of view, expectations are bound to be high because he is a resource brought in after a considerable amount of bleeding, such as the right to pick in the second round of the rookie draft.

Although expectations were high, Joo Hyo-sang had to compete, and to be honest, he cannot be said to be ahead of the main catcher. It can be seen that Han Seung-taek is ahead of the main catcher. Although he lacks a sense of weight, he has no less experience as a starting catcher, and his defensive ability has been proven. He was in a position to win a seat while competing with newcomers such as Shin Beom-soo and Kim Seon-woo. However, he is starting to see a spot in the first team little by little. He is showing his untapped potential in exhibition matches. The exhibition match against Lotte on the 27th was evidence. 

Manager Kim Jong-guk emphasized that the catcher’s defense is the priority, saying, “Working with the pitcher is important, and I try to watch the defense first. And now, the defense side is showing good performances.” In one of them, the stealing ability, Hyo-sang Joo appealed to himself. With two perfect throws to shake off the aftereffects of elbow surgery, he shot Lotte’s fast runners in succession.

Joo Hyo-sang perfectly captured Ahn Kwon-soo’s second base steal in the third inning. Ahn Kwon-soo made a quick start, but the throw went low and fast to the second base without an inch of error. It was such a perfect throw that second baseman Kim Seon-bin, who received the throw, was able to tag Ahn Kwon-soo without moving. In the 8th inning, he blocked Park Seung-wook’s stealing of second base and stopped two steals on this day alone. 

He showed off a day where he even showed off his sense of hitting while completing a multi-hit game at bat. Although the game was defeated 2-6 with 5 piles of errors, it was clear that Joo Hyo-sang’s performance was a harvest. KBSn Sports commentator Na Ji-wan also praised his performance, saying, “Today’s KIA’s harvest is Ju Hyo-sang.”

Of course, not only Joo Hyo-sang, but also Han Seung-taek, Shin Beom-su and Kim Seon-woo’s sweat throughout the winter cannot be ignored. As much as that, everyone harbored a vicious spirit with a good-natured sense of competition. Director Kim Jong-guk said, “Our catchers were stimulated a lot. They prepared well. The press kept saying that they were weak, so their pride was also hurt.”

Joo Hyo-sang fired the gunshots of the competition again. Will KIA be able to create a season that overturns the prejudice and evaluation that the catchers are weak? /jhrae@osen.co.kr

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