Key players left off KBO opening-weekend rosters due to COVID-19

SEOUL-- Several key veterans will miss the season-opening weekend in South Korean baseball after testing positive for COVID-19.

All 10 clubs in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) released their 28-man rosters for the first weekend of the season on Friday. The 2022 regular season starts at 2 p.m. Saturday at five stadiums across the country. Teams will each play a two-game set on Saturday and Sunday, and then starting Tuesday, they will get into the regular cycle of playing a pair of three-game series each week.

Conspicuous by their absences were NC Dinos' catcher Yang Eui-ji, Samsung Lions' starter Baek Jung-hyun, Kiwoom Heroes' catcher Park Dong-won, and SSG Landers' infielder Choi Joo-hwan.

Yang, a perennial MVP contender coming off his second-straight 30-homer, 100-RBI campaign, is one of two NC players to have tested positive for the virus, joined on the sidelines by shortstop No Jin-hyuk.

Yang had attended the KBO media day event in Seoul on Thursday, alongside his manager Lee Dong-wook and outfielder Son Ah-seop. Lee had his bout with COVID-19 last week.

The Lions have three players with the virus, with Baek being the most significant absence. The 34-year-old left-hander finished second in the KBO with a 2.63 ERA and won a career-best 14 games in 2021.

Park set career highs with 22 home runs and 83 RBIs last year for the Heroes, whose catching depth will be tested with little-used Kim Jae-hyun thrust into a more prominent role alongside veteran Lee Ji-young.

The Landers will be missing Choi's pop in the early going. The second baseman had 18 home runs last season while being limited to 116 games due to injuries.

The Doosan Bears and the Hanwha Eagles also have one player each with COVID-19 infection.

The defending champions KT Wiz are one of four teams without an ailing player, though LG Twins do have their pitching coach Kyung Hun-ho sidelined.

The KBO has said it will try to avoid halting the season, even with multiple positive cases from teams. Games will only be canceled if a club is unable to dress 28 players, including at least two catchers. Teams will be allowed to call up minor leaguers and undrafted players on developmental contracts to fill vacant spots.

Source: Yonhap News Agency