Ever since the team’s star catcher, Kang Min-ho, left for Samsung as a free agent, Lotte’s catcher position has been a problem. They’ve tried to build from within, they’ve traded for someone from the outside, and they’ve tried to add competition, 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. It was one of the reasons why Lotte couldn’t 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 Yoo Kang-nam lasted four years in his prime, they could prepare the next catcher in the meantime.
But 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 with an abdominal muscle injury.
In the meantime, other catchers have stepped up and changed the game. Lee Jung-geun, 24, has been making waves in the offense, and Son Sung-bin, 21, has been showing off his power. 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. 안전놀이터
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.
Son Sung-bin boasts a strong bat. Lee