“He’s done well so far.”
These are the words of KIA Tigers manager Kim Jong-kook on the recent performance of backup catcher Han Jun-soo, 24.
Called up to the first team roster on June 25, Han is 4-for-15 with one home run and two RBIs. He has been in the starting lineup in the rotation, backing up starter Kim Tae-gun (34). In the three games he has started, he has recorded a hit. In particular, he went 3-for-6 with a double and two RBIs against the Lotte Giants at Sajik Stadium in Busan on April 12.
Han, a native of Dongseong High School in Gwangju, joined KIA with the first overall pick in the 2018 Rookie Draft. He was considered a top-notch catcher in high school and his potential was recognized when he signed a contract worth 160 million won.
Han Jun-soo made the first team in each of the 2018 and 2019 seasons in September when the expanded roster was implemented. However, he was not given the opportunity to make a significant impact. In 2020, he played 69 games in the Futures (second-tier) league, batting .340 with two home runs and 35 RBIs.
After being called up for active duty during the 2021 season, Han was discharged from the military last year and began to retool. The work he put into his body, losing 25 kilograms, paid off. He quickly regained his sharp swing and improved his defense. KIA, which started the season with Han Seung-taek Joo Hyo-sang and acquired Kim Tae-gun in a trade via Shin Bum-soo, opted to give Han a chance. After being called up to the first team, he handled his role as Kim Tae-gun’s backup with ease, and is slowly gaining attention for his talents at the plate. Recently, he’s been batting alongside rookie Yoon Young-chul (19), and the two have been working well together. 안전놀이터
The growth of the first-round pick is good news for KIA, which has been plagued by insecurity in recent years without a next-generation catcher. However, there is a view that the team needs to show more maturity to continue this growth. He’ll have to overcome competition from other catching options, including Han Seung-taek, Joo Hyo-sang, who is rebuilding with the Future Team, and Kwon Hyuk-kyung, who is serving in the military.
KIA head coach Kim Jong-guk applauded Han Jun-soo, saying, “He’s been doing a great job so far despite his lack of first-team experience.” However, Kim added, “There are still a lot of games left. Han Seung-taek and rookie Joo Hyo-sang are also preparing well in the Future Team,” Kim said, “and we plan to call up another catcher in September when the expanded roster is implemented.”
The first-round pick has been steadily improving and is starting to produce results in the first team, but KIA is not letting up on the competition. In the meantime, the team hopes that Han Jun-soo will grow even more.