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MLB hopeful Lee Jung-hoo trying to block out distractions in WBC buildup

Feb. 19, 2023 - 10:29 By Yonhap
South Korean outfielder Lee Jung-hoo takes part in a batting practice for the World Baseball Classic at Kino Sports Complex in Tucson, Arizona, on Saturday. (Yonhap)

TUCSON -- South Korean outfielder Lee Jung-hoo has had many watchful eyes of major league scouts following his moves this week, as he is gearing up for next month's World Baseball Classic with an opportunity to move to Major League Baseball next year on the horizon.

The reigning MVP in the Korea Baseball Organization said Saturday here that he has been trying to stay focused, with some helpful tips offered by his uber-agent, Scott Boras.

"I've been told that major league clubs have already completed their assessments of my game, and that their scouts are trying to see my response to different game situations and my mental approach," Lee told reporters after the national team practice session at Kino Sports Complex in Tucson, Arizona. "Hearing that put my mind at ease. No matter who comes to watch me play, I will just focus on my own game."

Lee's KBO club, Kiwoom Heroes, have long declared that they will post their prized outfielder for interested major league teams after the 2023 season. Lee hired Boras, one of the biggest names in baseball player representation, as his US agent to aid in the process.

The WBC, which will feature a slew of current major league pitchers or MLB-caliber hurlers, could be a showcase for Lee. South Korea's first scrimmage on Thursday in Tucson attracted scouts from nine MLB teams, including the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox.

Lee went 0-for-2 in that game but insisted his hitless day wasn't due to any extra pressure created by the scouts' presence.

"I think those scouts are probably more interested in other guys who are hoping to go to MLB down the road," Lee said. "That was my first live game of training camp, and I am going to build up slowly going forward."

Lee tweaked his swing over the offseason to better get to big-league fastballs, removing unnecessary elements to increase his bat speed.

"I've not thought about going back to my old swing," Lee said.

Lee took part in bunting drills Saturday, as South Korea is preparing for quirky extra-inning rules at the WBC. Teams will begin the 10th inning with a runner at second base, and they may choose to lay down a bunt to advance that runner to third base and get the sure run.

Lee's last bunt came in 2020. He has only had 10 sacrifice bunts over his first six KBO seasons.

"In baseball, you have to go with the high-percentage plays. But unless I have the bunt sign, I will be up there swinging," said Lee, the reigning KBO batting champion. "With a man at second and nobody out, I think it's better to drive something through the hole on the right side than to bunt the runner over to third. I think I am capable of pulling that off."

At the WBC, South Korea will face Australia, Japan, the Czech Republic and China in Pool B at Tokyo Dome. The top two countries after round-robin action will reach the quarterfinals, also at Tokyo Dome, and the semifinals and the final will be played at LoanDepot Park in Miami, home of the Miami Marlins.

Lee said his goal at the WBC is "to be back in the US"

"To do that, we must beat Australia in our first game," Lee said. "I am not thinking of anything else but winning that game." (Yonhap)