Ever since Kang Min-ho, the team’s starting catcher, left for Samsung as a free agent, Lotte’s catcher position has been an issue. They’ve tried to build from within, they’ve traded for someone from the outside, and they’ve tried to compete, but it hasn’t worked.
By spring, there were a lot of promising players, but their expiration date didn’t last past spring. There was no perfect catcher, and they all had their own weaknesses, and those weaknesses gradually overshadowed their strengths, leaving the Lotte catching staff adrift. The team’s center line was constantly shaky as the infield was not stable. This was one of the reasons why Lotte was unable to move forward.
With Lee Dae-ho’s retirement clearing the team’s payroll, Lotte diligently scoured the free agent market ahead of this season. While Yoo Kang-nam, No Jin-hyuk, and Han Hyun-hee were signed one after the other, catcher Yoo Kang-nam (31) was the lion’s share of the investment. At the time of his signing, it seemed to make sense. The hefty price tag of 8 billion won over four years was controversial, but there was no doubt that Yoo would be a huge addition to the Lotte Power.
Yoo was one of the healthiest catchers in the league, and one who always played a lot of defensive innings. Framing was one of the best catchers in the league. He had one-hit power, and he was young. He was now 31 years old. He was on the cusp of experience and skill. Lotte’s calculation was that if they could keep Yoo Kang-nam for four years while he was in his prime, they could prepare their next catcher in the meantime.
토스카지노 However, this plan was about to be derailed when Yoo faltered. Yoo was praised for his steady defense and pitching at the start of the season, but he fell on hard times as his offense sagged and his errors became more and more apparent. In 81 games this season, Yoo hit just .226 with six home runs, 29 RBIs, and an OPS of .641. Neither offensively nor defensively was he performing at 100%. Eventually, he was placed on the disabled list on July 29 due to an abdominal muscle injury.
Lee’s performance has bolstered Lotte’s catching staff ⓒKyun Hye-mi Reporter
The strong Son Sung-bin is Lotte’s next big catcher ⓒLotte Giants
In the meantime, however, the game is changing as other catchers are making their mark. Lee Jung-geun (24) is playing a big role in the offense, and Son Seong-bin (21) is showing off a strong dog. Still, given the importance of Yoo and the role he will play in the future, there’s no reason to delay his call-up once he’s healthy. However, when he comes up, the team will have to find a way to utilize all three players, not just one.
Lee Jung-geun’s bat is hot. Initially criticized for his offense compared to his defense, he’s now batting .418 with a .515 slugging percentage in 41 games this season. It’s a small sample size of 68 at-bats, so it’s not a complete test, but he’s been one of Lotte’s hottest hitters of late. His OPS is a whopping 1.115. It’s quite a turnaround for a catcher who was once considered “relatively better defensively” than other catchers. He had two hits against KIA on the 13th, five hits against SSG on the 15th, and two hits on the 16th, including a pinch-hit single.
Sung-bin Son is a powerhouse. He has one of the best pop times in the league. This is due to his quick body movement and bullet-like delivery. The average speed of a KBO catcher is in the mid 120 kilometers per hour, and anything over 130 kilometers per hour is considered strong shoulder. However, Son Sung-bin often shows a laser fastball that reaches 135 kilometers. It’s a natural talent. In recent at-bats, he’s been hitting for power, showing why the team has identified him as their next starter.
Manager Larry Sutton has made it clear that he intends to utilize all three players on the first team roster for the time being. “Yoo Kang-nam played three games in the second team, including one game where he played nine innings of defense to check his fitness,” Sutton said before the Sasak SSG game on the 16th. We’ll make a roster adjustment tomorrow,” Sutton said, foreshadowing Yoo’s call-up on the 17th. “It’s a happy problem for a manager,” he said with a smile.
“All three catchers are right-handed hitters,” Sutton said. We don’t have any right-handed hitters on the bench, so we can use one of the three as a starter and one as a designated hitter. “All three players are good defensive players, so they will be a good weapon to have flexibility in the second half of the game,” Sutton said.
Lotte needs to come up with a strategy to stabilize Son Sung-bin in the Yoo Kang-nam infield system ⓒLotte Giants
It will be interesting to see if Yoo Kang-nam can showcase his value as a player ⓒKyun Hye-mi Reporter
For example, on days when Yoo Kang-nam is the main player, Son Seong-bin will be the backup in case of a possible situation during or after the game, and the infielders with good hitting ability can be utilized as substitutes. On the other hand, the catchers are a bit of a liability. In a situation where one run is needed in the last minute of the game, they are replaced by pinch-hitters and the ‘three-catcher system’ is more comfortable. In the ‘two-catcher system’, it is often difficult to make a drastic change because there is no catcher waiting behind them.
Also, since the roster is expanded in September, the three-catcher system will be used during this time anyway. Almost all teams go with a three-catcher system when the expanded roster is implemented. By properly utilizing the strengths of the three players, September is bound to come, and it is also a sign that the team will naturally continue the flow.
If the three catchers coexist, Lotte will be able to build a catching staff that isn’t soulless. Yoo Kang-nam is a player who can be expected to perform better than he is now. The offense-oriented Shin Jung-geun has a lot of value for Lotte right now, and Son Sung-bin is a player they should develop for the long term. It will be interesting to see if Yoo Kang-nam’s free agency in four years will be followed by Son Seong-bin, and if a virtuous cycle can be created to prepare the next generation of catchers in the meantime. What is certain is that the Lotte catching staff has created a trend that gives hope for the end of the season.