This year's Major League Baseball season has finally arrived, with three opening games to be played on Sunday. Like last year, there are eight Koreans playing for big league teams, or their affiliated minor league teams, this season.
Former Lotte Giants player Hwang Jae-gyun, who has joined the San Francisco Giants, is the new Korean face, while Lee Dae-ho has left the Seattle Mariners and returned to Busan to resume playing with Lotte Giants.
The other seven players are unchanged. Four are included in the starting rosters of their respective teams: Choo Shin-soo of the Texas Rangers, Oh Seung-hwan of the St. Louis Cardinals, Ryu Hyun-jin of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Kim Hyun-soo of the Baltimore Orioles.
Park Byung-ho of the Minnesota Twins and Hwang have been assigned to minor-league teams. The future is uncertain for both Choi Ji-man of the New York Yankees, who struggled in spring training, and Kang Jung-ho of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who was denied a U.S. work visa following a recent DUI conviction.
Ryu, who underwent surgery on his shoulder in 2015 and his elbow in 2016, has focused on rehabilitation for the last two seasons. In four appearances during spring training, Ryu struck out 12 hitters and allowed just one walk, earning a spot in the starting rotation. He is scheduled to start the Dodgers' away game against the Colorado Rockies on Friday.
Oh's prospects for this season look even brighter than last season, when he posted 19 saves and a 1.92 ERA. He has been confirmed as a closer for the Cardinals this season. Choo, who only managed to play in 48 games last season due to injuries, and Kim, who went 0 for 18 against lefties last year, are hoping to have much better seasons.
Based on their spring training performances, Park and Hwang are both likely to be first in line if spots open up on their teams' big league rosters should a teammate be injured or lose form.
All MLB teams will play 162 games this season. Eight will make it to the playoffs, with two playing the World Series to determine which team will be crowned MLB champions.
From left, Hwang Jae-gyun, Ryu Hyun-jin, Kim Hyun-soo, Cho Shin-soo and Oh Seung-hwan