Referring to any player as the next Ichiro Suzuki would appear to be foolhardy at best. Then there is Kiwoom Heroes outfielder Jung Hoo Lee.
Lee has already put together a historic showing in the Korean Baseball Organization. The 2017 KBO Rookie of the Year, he was also the youngest All Star in league history that year. Lee was named the league’s MVP in 2022, has won five consecutive Gold Glove awards, and is he fastest player in KBO history to 1000 hits. He is also the only player with at least six consecutive seasons of at least 160 hits, something he has accomplished in his first six seasons, and has the highest batting average of any player with at least 3000 plate appearances .
Jung Hoo Lee could set standard for South Korean players
While several Japanese players have gone on to find stardom stateside, the same has not necessarily been the case with players from South Korea. Shin-soo Choo has the highest bWAR of any player from South Korea and is one of four players to even reach double digits in that metric; the other three are pitchers. Ha-seong Lee could join that group in 2023 as he is at 7.1 bWAR thus far in his career.
There still needs to be that one transcendent player to hail from South Korea. That one player who changes how players from the KBO are perceived. Right now, they are regarded as solid enough role players, but none have become a superstar. But that is how position players from Japan were regarded before Ichiro signed with the Mariners.
Lee does not have Ichiro’s speed or pure hitting ability. There are concerns as to whether or not he can handle premium velocity. The majority of his power comes from his pull side, something that could be exploited at the major league level. There are a few risks in his profile.
But there are reasons to imagine that he can be that major league superstar South Korea needs. He began hitting the ball to all fields more in 2022. Changes to his swing and better coaching to could unlock more pop to all fields as well. Lee has excellent speed in his own right even if that speed does not translate to steals. But again, better coaching can help there. He is not the polished player that Ichiro was, but he could turn into a reasonable facsimile. All the tools are there for that to happen. If it does, South Korea will have that truly transcendent star they need in the majors.
Ichiro Suzuki changed how Japanese position players were viewed in the majors. Jung Hoo Lee could do the same for South Korea.