“Won-jun Choi can join the team on June 13,” KIA manager Kim Jong-guk said during spring training in Arizona in February. At the time, that was still more than four months away, but it was a very precise timeline for Choi Won-jun (26, KIA), symbolizing the high expectations.
Drafted in the second round (3rd overall) by KIA in 2016 out of Seoul High School, Choi has been the team’s top offensive prospect for some time. He struggled early on in his career, bouncing from position to position, but the reward was first-team experience, and he performed well in 2020 and 2021, when he became a solid contributor to the team before being drafted. In 2021,먹튀검증 he batted .295 with a .370 on-base percentage and 40 stolen bases in 143 games, proving his “top prospect” title.
During his military service with the Korean Armed Forces Athletic Corps (Commerce), Choi was a favorite of KIA fans, as well as the front office and coaching staff. He was expected to bring finesse, mobility, and outfield defense to the team. The hype was fueled by a bombing season in the Futures League (second division) last year. Some even had rosy hopes for a “free agent power bat”. This was not an exaggeration, as he proved to be an instant powerhouse leadoff.
His performance since his return has not lived up to those expectations. Through 25 days and 48 games since his return, Choi is batting .250 with one home run, 18 RBI, eight doubles, and an OPS of .674. He’s not the type of player to hit for extra bases, but his OBP and slugging percentage aren’t exactly what you’d expect. A bad shoulder that kept him from playing enough Futures League games this year seems to be holding him back. Once he starts hitting well, there should be a period where it stays that way, but it’s been jagged.
He’s a player who just got out. There’s no need to be discouraged. Expectations shouldn’t be too low for him this year. Next year, when he’s fully prepared from spring training, will be the best time to judge his current form. The question is how to maximize his potential. His duties in the batting order are more or less set. The question is the defense position. It’s a position that has been controversial throughout his career.
Choi played both infield and outfield early in his career. There are two sides to the debate: “He didn’t have a clear position, which caused confusion,” and “He was able to play a lot of games in the first team and gain experience”. However, the two years prior to his enlistment were spent in the outfield, and he didn’t play a single inning in 2021. It was judged that it was best to go to the outfield to utilize his quick feet and strong shoulders.
Won-jun Choi showed some anxiety in his temporary first base defense ⓒKIA Tigers
Won-jun Choi has the talent to contribute in both the leadoff and offense ⓒKIA Tigers
However, things got weird on the way back. In the outfield, the Tigers have solid starters in Na Sung-beom and Socrates Brito. In left field, Lee Woo-sung, Lee Chang-jin, and Ko Jong-wook alternated between the two positions, except for Choi Hyung-woo, who played mainly as a designated hitter. Lee’s return came when he was hitting well, while Hwang Dae-in Byun Woo-hyuk, who was supposed to play first base, was either injured or batting poorly. This is why they pulled out the “first baseman Choi Won-joon” card as a stopgap measure.
However, Choi Won-joon made several errors in his defense at first base, creating a circle jerk of offense and defense. He has committed six errors at first base alone in a short span of time this year, and it’s not like he’s been able to produce enough offense to overwhelm the competition. Kia manager Kim Jong-kook said before the 24th game against Suwon KT: “I think I felt bad about that because I made a mistake and it led to another run. As a player, it’s all natural. I wonder if that didn’t weigh on him,” he said.
Choi Won-jun, who was used as a starting center fielder on the 24th, was also used as a center fielder in the ninth inning against Gwangju Hanwha on the 25th. Kim plans to use Choi in the outfield for the time being. KIA has another prospect at first base, Byun Woo-hyuk. It’s likely that Choi will compete with other outfielders for a spot in the outfield and finish the season with a part-time job at first base in case of a game emergency. Lee Woo-sung is a right-handed outfielder and Ko Jong-wook is utilized as a pinch-hitter, so one of the outfield spots could go to Platoon.
Choi’s inability to settle on a single position is understandable given the variables that have come up during the season. The season will come to a close. The focus is on next year’s plans. Depending on where Kia sees Choi’s position, the team’s strategy for managing the beast may change. He’s probably better suited to the outfield than first base, so if they decide to send him to the outfield, they’ll have to think hard about how to utilize redundant resources.
In the end, how Choi finishes the season will also have a big impact on the team’s strategy. If you’re confident, you can build a game around him and have a big discussion about the future of Socrates Brito. On the other hand, with his current form, he should be in the game. Here’s why I’m curious about Choi’s performance for the rest of the season.
Choi Won-jun’s performance is the key to the outfield next year ⓒKIA Tigers