With another home run, magical spring continues for KBO rooki

SEOUL-- Another preseason game, another home run for LG Twins' rookie sensation Song Chan-eui.

Just like that, the beat goes on in the magical spring for the 23-year-old utility man, who has seized the opportunity to crack the active roster in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) for the first time.

Song launched his league-leading sixth home run of the preseason Thursday against the Doosan Bears at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul. On a 2-2 count against starter Lee Young-ha in the top of the fourth, Song jumped on a slider on the outside corner and deposited the ball into the left field seats for a solo shot, putting the Twins ahead 2-1.

Jamsil is the most cavernous ballpark in the league and also its least hitter-friendly stadium: 125 meters from home plate to straightaway center, and 100 meters down the left and right field lines. But when you're as hot as Song has been in March, dimensions don't really matter.

Song's dinger traveled 115 meters.

"It's such a huge ballpark, and I wasn't sure if the ball would go out, though I knew I'd made good contact," Song said after the game, which ended in a 2-2 tie. "This gave me some confidence."

Song came into this game with an unsustainable slugging percentage of 1.136. Of his first six hits across 22 at-bats in seven games, five of them went for home runs and one was a triple.

Song also had five strikeouts in those seven games, and he struck out in his first time up against Lee in the second inning.

Song fanned on a 1-2 slider then, but when Lee left the same pitch over the outer part of the plate in the fourth inning, Song made no mistake.

"In my first at-bat, Young-ha's slider dropped more than I'd anticipated, so I had to make some adjustments for the next trip," Song said. "I was prepared for his slider."

In his third trip to the plate, facing new pitcher Park Shin-zi, Song drew a four-pitch walk.

Song's preseason includes a two-homer game Tuesday against the SSG Landers, with both homers coming against former major league starters: first Ivan Nova and then Kim Kwang-hyun.

The KBO has been keeping track of preseason stats since 2002, and Song's six home runs are tied for most in a single preseason.

Song said he hadn't been aware of the record and he won't start paying attention to his home run totals now.

"I have never once tried to hit a home run in any at-bat this month," Song said. "I didn't think I'd be putting up numbers like this, but I just think that my hard work is finally paying off."

Song was selected by the Twins in the seventh round of the 2017 draft. His uncle, Song Gu-hong, was the Twins' general manager at the time, and it led to whispers that the nephew had been a nepotistic pick. The younger Song struggled in the minors and never reached the KBO before beginning his mandatory military service after the 2019 season.

Song returned an improved hitter in 2021, putting up a .301/.391/.568 line in 55 games with seven home runs, 23 RBIs, six steals and 16 doubles. He drew 21 walks and struck out just 19 times.

Song arrived in this year's spring training with virtually zero expectations. But with the start of the new season only nine days away, Song is forcing manager Ryu Ji-hyun's hands when it comes to lineup decisions.

Even when considering that preseason numbers should be taken with a grain of salt, it will be difficult to justify leaving a bat as hot as Song's off the team, at least in the beginning of the season.

Song played mostly shortstop in high school and also handled some first and third base duties. So far in the preseason, Song has played at every infield position and got the start in right field Thursday.

Song has previously said he feels most comfortable at shortstop or on second base, though he is willing to play anywhere. His path to an everyday shortstop role is blocked by team captain Oh Ji-hwan, one of the league's best defensive shortstops. But Song's power stroke, if he can maintain at least some semblance of that during the regular season, should be enough to keep him on the team.

Asked if he is worried that he is peaking too early, Song said, "Obviously, you never know how things will play out once the regular season starts. But I am not going to waste my time worrying about that. I will just focus on maintaining my form."

Source: Yonhap News Agency