KBO’s on-base machine looking to stay course after banner year

INCHEON-- Based on the kind of season he enjoyed in South Korean baseball last year, LG Twins' outfielder Hong Chang-ki clearly didn't have anything broken about his game.

That is why he is not going to fix anything in 2022.

The 28-year-old blossomed into one of the premier leadoff hitters in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) in 2021, only his second full season. He led the league with 109 walks and a .456 on-base percentage, while also finishing second with 103 runs, fourth with a .328 batting average and fifth with 172 hits. Those numbers helped Hong nab his first career Golden Glove, the annual prize awarded to the best overall player at each position.

Athletes who find sudden success could let it get to their head and take their foot off the pedal, but Hong said Tuesday he made sure he would stick to his same offseason routine.

"During the winter, I went through the same training regimen that I always had," Hong said before a preseason game against the SSG Landers at Incheon SSG Landers Field in Incheon, 40 kilometers west of Seoul. "I thought about changing my swing a bit but ultimately decided it'd be better off not to tweak anything."

At 189 centimeters and 94 kilograms, Hong has the build of a power hitter. But he has only hit nine home runs in 317 career games, covering 978 at-bats. At this point in his career, Hong won't suddenly become a slugger, and the player himself knows his limits.

"I am not all that crazy about homers and slugging percentages," Hong said. "There was a time when I consciously tried to hit home runs, but I figured it wasn't going to be the path I should take."

And when you can hit like Hong has this preseason, who needs home runs?

Hong has hit the ground running this month, with a robust .563 batting average (9-for-16) to go along with a .611 on-base percentage in six preseason games. The regular season starts April 2.

Typically a patient hitter who works the count, Hong has been noticeably aggressive this spring. Hong downplayed the significance of the new approach.

"Since these are exhibition games, I can afford to be a bit more aggressive at the plate," Hong said. "And that has led to a few hits here and there. I've been lucky to find some holes through the defense. I'll just try to maintain my stroke as long as I can."

The numbers that Hong has posted so far in March certainly aren't sustainable over the course of a 144-game season, and Hong doesn't really care about individual statistics anyway -- other than his on-base percentage.

"I don't have personal goals," Hong said. "As the leadoff hitter, I want to get on base as much as possible."

Hong will try to become the first KBO player since Kim Tae-kyun from 2012 to 2014 to lead the league in on-base percentage in consecutive seasons.

Source: Yonhap News Agency