Legend Nakseom decides to join high school rookie starters

‘150km + immediate curve’ KT has rookie of the year nominees

KT manager Lee Kang-cheol is a legendary pitcher with 152 career wins in the KBO. He is a bit picky when it comes to pitchers. If a high school rookie fits into Lee’s eyes, it’s a feat in itself.

Won Sang-hyun (20), a right-hander from Busan High School who was selected by KT in the first round of the 2024 KBO Rookie Draft, is a player who passed through that needle. He was highly touted right out of the gate last year, and after a stellar spring training, Won is on the verge of breaking into the team’s opening day rotation. He throws hard and has a decisive pitch that will definitely work in the first team. KT has high hopes for him.

Ahead of the team’s exhibition game against KIA at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field on Saturday, manager Lee Kang-cheol revealed that he is considering Won Sang-hyun as the team’s opening five starters for now. KT has four starting spots filled with homegrown ace Ko Young-pyo, two foreign pitchers (William Cuevas and Wes Benjamin) and Uhm Sang-baek. Won Sang-hyun, Kim Min-jin, Joey Hyun and Lee Chae-ho were competing for the last spot, but Won has been given priority.

Lee doesn’t expect Won to be a full-time five-starter. While he agrees that he has the stuff to lead the team on the mound in the future, he doesn’t expect much from the high school rookie in his first season. Add to that the fact that the undisputed ace, Choi Min-joon, is coming off elbow surgery and will return midseason. “Won Sang-hyun is a rookie. He needs to manage his innings,” Lee said.

Nevertheless, he was selected to start the opening five because he has the power to do so. Won is recognized for his fastball, which can reach over 150 kilometers per hour and has good command. In addition, Won has a strong curveball, which he considers his best pitch. While Lee expects to rotate the five starters, he believes Won is the best option for the current pitching situation. “Even if Choi Min-joon comes back, we still have to rotate the starters every 10 days,” Lee said, noting that even if Won is pushed out of the starting rotation, there’s a chance he’ll get another chance at some point.

Won Sang-hyun was the second pitcher in the sixth inning of an exhibition game against Kia at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field on Saturday after William Cuevas, who started the game with a 4-0 lead. Won was originally scheduled to start the game, but Cuevas went first in case of rain, and Won was the second pitcher of the day. His overall performance wasn’t that impressive, with three hits, two walks, and two runs in 3⅓ innings. But that was in the sixth inning, when he wasn’t in perfect rhythm yet. From the seventh to the first inning of the ninth, he pitched very well and showed that he deserves to be in the starting rotation.

His five strikeouts were a definite plus. Won’s four-seam fastball topped out at 150 mph on the day, and his average velocity was 146 mph. He mixes it up with his curveball. The curveball isn’t the easiest pitch to throw, but he controlled its course well. He also threw a slider and a changeup to test his pitches. It’s worth noting that he pitched in the seventh inning rather than the sixth inning. “Won Sang-hyun also had a little trouble in the first inning, but after that, he pitched steadily,” Lee said after the game.

After the game, Won Sang-hyun said, “The KIA fans cheered me on so loudly that I was nervous from the start. If I hadn’t given up a walk, I could have easily gotten through the 토토 inning, but it was a shame that I let the opposing batter out.” While reflecting on the situation in the sixth inning, he said, “I threw my changeup for the first time as a professional today, and I think it works well against lefties, so I’m going to work on it more. The curve is a pitch I’m really confident in,” he said of the game.

If Lee’s current plan continues, Won will be the first high school rookie to crack the starting rotation this year. He may even be the only one to make the opening day roster. He has a good foothold in the Rookie of the Year race. This is because if he can play consistently as a starter, he will have an advantage in terms of raises and cumulative record.

Won Sang-hyun also expressed confidence, saying, “The manager trusted me to be the starter, and I’m encouraged because my stamina seems to be maintained well and my velocity doesn’t drop as I pitch.” “I believe that if I focus more on the beginning of the game in the regular season, good results will follow,” he said. I will ask my seniors a lot of questions and prepare well for the season,” he said. If Won can pitch 80-100 innings as a starter this year, the already formidable KT pitching staff will not only be better now, but will also be able to light up the future.


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