Catcher Kim Dong-heon, 19, is the ‘Rookie of the Year’
Rare full-time first-team minutes for a rookie
Appeared in 88 of 119 matches ‘with distinction’
Will make his first AG cap next month
For Kiwoom Heroes rookie Kim Dong-heon, 19, 2023 was a year of challenges. Unusually for a high school rookie catcher, he played full-time for the first team. He filled the void left by senior Lee Ji-young and earned his first senior national team call-up.
Nevertheless, she was stingy with her praise. “Maybe a B0? An A+ would be a Golden Glove.”
When we met at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Nov. 24, he humbly admitted that he still has a long way to go on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
Before the season, not many expected the second-rounder, fresh out of high school, to be a first-team regular. “Initially, my goal was to get promoted to the first team in the expanded roster,” he said. “Thankfully, I was given the opportunity and started. I also realized my goal of playing in an away game for my former club sooner than I thought.”
When his early batting didn’t go his way, he continued to receive the ball and gain experience. Through 29 days, he had played in 88 of the team’s 119 games and worn a mask for 450⅓ innings. He ranks 10th in the league in defensive innings played.
As his playing time has increased and his nerves have relaxed, his bat has gotten lighter. His batting average, which was .214 in April, has steadily increased since then. The heat wave hasn’t stopped him from hitting well this month, as he’s gone 18-for-53 (.340) for the month.
The presence of his older brothers also helped. “(Lee) Jung-hoo advised me to manage my physical fitness in the heat before I got injured,” said Kim Dong-heon, adding, “By adjusting the amount and content of my training, I was able to focus more on my game.” Lee Ji-young and Kim Xiang are also seniors who are not only competing for positions, but also rely on their presence.
There were highs and lows. The pressure to do better was toxic. After making a mistake, I would overthink it, which only hardened my body. A typical example was the match against SSG Landers early last month. After a series of blocking mistakes, we suffered an upset loss and were sent to the Futures League (second division).
The crisis was an opportunity for self-reflection. He had doubts about his blocking skills and confided in his second team battery coach Kim Dong-woo. Park Do-hyun, the first team battery coach, sent him training videos and asked for advice. “It’s not the blocking position, it’s the judgment,” he replied.먹튀검증
In September, as the season draws to a close, Kim’s growth is just beginning. The Hangzhou Asian Games were just around the corner. He was dumbfounded when he found out he’d made the roster, but he was also happy to see his dream of making it to the big leagues. When asked which pitcher he would like to receive the ball from, Hanwha Eagles’ Moon Dong-joo’s name popped up first. “It was the best ball I’ve ever seen in person,” he smiled, “I’m looking forward to it because it has so much movement and speed.”
For now, Kim’s role is as a backup. For his team, for the Korean flag. But his ambitions are much bigger. “My dream is to be consistently selected for every international tournament like Yang Ji and Kang Min-ho,” he says, “and I’m going to make a good start.”