The KT Wizards, coached by Lee Kang-cheol, recently had to part ways with closer Kim Jae-yoon. Kim, who is eligible for free agency after this season, left KT for the Samsung Lions in a deal worth up to $5.8 billion over four years.
Kim has been a stalwart in the KT closer role since the 2016 season. In 481 games for KT, he compiled a 44-33 record with 169 saves and 17 holds for a 3.58 ERA. He has recorded 30 saves in three consecutive years and was the mainstay of KT V1 in 2021, going 4-3 with a 2.42 ERA in 65 games. He also held down the fort in the back end this season, going 5-5 with a 2.60 ERA in 59 games.
That Kim Jae-yoon is no more. Someone else will have to fill the void. Of course, next year’s spring training will reveal the protagonist, but for now, the player who is getting the most attention from fans and experts alike is Park Young-hyun.굿모닝토토 도메인
After joining KT with the 22nd overall pick after graduating from Yushin University, Park has completely transformed his game this season, going 1-0 with a 3.66 ERA in 52 games last season, his rookie campaign. With a 3-3 record, 4 saves, and a 2.75 ERA in 68 games and 32 holds, he has not only established himself as one of KT’s best pitchers, but has also become the youngest holder in KBO history.
His presence also shone in the fall baseball season. Last year, Young-hyun Park became the youngest player in postseason history with a two-inning scoreless save in Game 2 of the semifinals against the Kiwoom Heroes, and this year, he went 2-0 with a 4.91 ERA in four playoff games and one save in four games of the Korean Series. The only reason his ERA was in the four-run range in the Korean Series was because he gave up a home run in Game 2, but he didn’t allow a run in the other three games.
He also added strength to the Korean mound at the 2022 Hangzhou Asian Games, where he threw more than 150 kilometers at the end of the season, and was the perfect link in the team’s four-game winning streak.
When we met ahead of the 2023 KT Wiz Fan Festival at Kyung Hee University International Campus on April 26, Young-hyun said, “Jae-yoon left. We all need to prepare well for next year,” he said, adding, “There’s already so much talk about finishing (laughs). I’m confused, but I hope I’ll be the one to finish, and it’s my dream to play that role. Of course, I need to prepare better to be the finisher.”
“I was on the phone with my brother Jae-yoon. He said, ‘Oh? Finish KT’ (laughs). We met the day before the free agent signing, and I called him on the day to congratulate him.” “My role hasn’t been decided yet, so I didn’t ask him about it. “I haven’t decided my role yet, so I didn’t ask him about it. If I decide my role in the season, I’ll ask him for advice and ask him questions.
In the league, as well as in the semi-playoffs and Korean Series, Jae-yoon has closed games and made saves. But being a full-time closer for a season is different. The weight of closing a game is different from closing a season.
However, Park said, “I think I’ll be more comfortable. In the bullpen, you don’t know when you’re going to go out in the fifth, sixth, seventh, or eighth inning, but you have time to prepare. You just have to prepare perfectly. You just have to close out the ninth inning. Of course, there will be pressure to win the title, but if I can overcome it, it will be even better for me.”
“I’m excited. I have a chance to fulfill my dream early, but I believe that if I overcome the pressure, happier moments will come.” Park says.
Park is confident that he will have a happy 2023. He played in the team’s must-win group, reached the Korean Series for the first time, won an Asian Games gold medal, received a military exemption, and won the Hold King title.
“I think it was a very happy year. I won the Hold King title and received a military exemption. It’s a satisfying year. Next year, if I’m the finisher, I’ll try to win the save title,” he said.
“I’m going to start training in mid-December. I won’t do anything until then and will take a break,” said Park Young-hyun, who shared his off-season plans. “It’s unfortunate that I couldn’t go to the APBC due to the Korean Series schedule, but I’m glad I got enough rest. I think I’ll be able to prepare better for next year’s season,” he concluded the interview.