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Team Korea World Baseball Classic 2023 roster

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The past two World Baseball Classic tournaments have not gone Korea’s way. One of the world’s baseball powerhouses, Korea finished third and second in the first two tournaments, respectively, but it failed to escape the first round in 2013 and ’17. Korea’s 2-1 loss to Israel in 2017 — perhaps the biggest upset in WBC history — was particularly jarring.

Japan is probably still the favorite in Pool B, which will begin play on March 9, but the gap is small. Don’t be surprised if 2023 is the year Korea lifts the World Baseball Classic trophy in Miami.

Here is a position-by-position breakdown of Team Korea. Within each position, players are listed in alphabetical order, with any affiliation to an MLB organization noted in parentheses.

Catchers: Ji-Young Lee, Eui-ji Yang

There are stars all around the diamond for Korea, and it starts at catcher. Yang is arguably the best catcher in the KBO, winning the KBO League Golden Glove Award five times and collecting the Korean Series MVP Award in 2016 and ’20. Now 35 years old and set to return to the Doosan Bears in the spring, Yang has a career .307/.389/.504 batting line and 228 home runs — topping 20 home runs in a season eight times.

Though Lee doesn’t have the bat that Yang does — his 16 career home runs are fewer than Yang has hit in any season since 2018 — the 36-year-old will provide plenty of veteran support behind the dish even as he makes his World Baseball Classic debut.

Infielders: Jeong Choi, Tommy Edman (Cardinals), Baek-Ho Kang, Ha-Seong Kim (Padres), Hye-Seong Kim, Ji-Hwan Oh, ByungHo Park

Korea may have the best middle-infield duo in the tournament. Edman and Ha-Seong Kim regularly turn in jaw-dropping highlight reel plays, combining for +27 defensive outs above average according to Statcast last season. While they’ll provide the leather, Choi and Park will bring plenty of power to the corners.

Choi is second all-time in the KBO with 429 home runs, bashing 26 long balls last year for the KBO champion SSG Landers. Don’t be surprised if he gets on base a few times with a hit-by-pitch: Jeong is the worldwide leader with 313 career HBP. Across the diamond, former Twins first baseman Park — who is fourth all-time in KBO homers (349) — will help hold down the middle of the lineup. Park led the KBO with 35 home runs last year.

Outfielders: Ji-Hoon Choi, Hyun Soo Kim, Jung-Hoo Lee, Sung-Bum Na, Hae-Min Park, Kun-Woo Park

Get ready to hear the name Jung-Hoo Lee plenty over the next year. Lee had an absolutely monster season last year, leading the KBO in average (.349), RBIs (113), hits (193) and OBP (.421) en route to being named the 2022 MVP. Set to be posted to the Majors after this season, Lee could use the World Baseball Classic to become an international sensation — before becoming the top non-Shohei Ohtani free agent next winter.

Just like everywhere else on the diamond, there’s plenty of pop in the outfield. Kim — who played for the Orioles and Phillies in 2016-17 — and Na will man the corners and have 235 and 233 KBO homers, respectively. Kun-Woo Park, meanwhile, is a .327 career hitter and finished third in the batting title race (.336) last year.

Choi was the last addition to the roster, replacing Ji-Man Choi as he’s recovering from surgery. Known for his speed and glove, Choi will most likely be used as a late-inning defensive replacement.

Pitchers: Woo-Suk Go, Been Gwak, Cheol-Won Jeong, Woo-Young Jung, Kwang Hyun Kim^, Won-Jung Kim, Yun-Sik Kim^, Young-Pyo Ko, Chang-Mo Koo^, Yong-Chan Lee, Eui-Lee Lee^, Se-Woong Park, Hyeong-Jun So, Tae-in Won, Hyeon-Jong Yang^

Manager Kang-chul Lee said that he built his rotation to induce plenty of ground balls — hey, wouldn’t you do the same with Edman and Kim in the middle infield? — but don’t be fooled: This staff can dominate.

Former Cardinals starter Kwang-Hyun Kim finished second for the KBO ERA title (2.13), 20-year-old Eui-Lee Lee finished fourth with 161 K’s and 21-year-old Hyeong-Jun So has already pitched three seasons in the KBO, collecting the 2020 Rookie of the Year Award when he was just 18 years old. Been Gwak, 23, is one of the hardest throwers in the KBO, and he struck out nearly a batter-per-inning last season, while left-handed starter Chang-Mo Koo would have won the ERA title (2.10) had he thrown enough innings to qualify.

Don’t expect Korea to blow many leads either: Setup man Cheol-Won Jeong won the 2022 Rookie of the Year Award after posting a 3.10 ERA and surrendering just four homers in 72 2/3 innings, while Woo-Suk Go will most likely close after posting a 1.48 ERA and leading the KBO with 42 saves last season. Yong-Chan Lee (2.08 ERA, 22 SV) should pick up some late-inning work, as well.

^ Denotes left-handed pitcher

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