With the demonstration games of the 2023 KBO 스포츠토토 League in full swing, the opening of the regular season is about two weeks away. The Samsung Lions fell from 2nd place in the 2021 regular season to 7th place last year, and desperately needs a rebound this year.
However, last winter, free agents Kim Sang-soo and Oh Seon-jin moved to other teams, weakening their power. Manager Park Jin-man, who was called the “national shortstop” while working for Samsung during his active career, officially took office as the command tower, but the club did not recruit free agents. It is also a concern for Samsung that the dependence on veterans and foreign players is very high across pitching.
The key to Samsung’s rebound is held by franchise star Koo Ja-wook. Ja-wook Koo, who graduated from Daegu High School and was nominated by Samsung in 2012, made his debut in the first team in 2015 after maturation and service in the Futures League. He hit double-digit homers for seven consecutive years through 2021, starting with 11 home runs in 2015, and recording a career-high 118 home runs.
Koo Ja-wook gathered expectations that he would become the successor to superstars Yang Jun-hyeok and Lee Seung-yeop, who commanded the KBO league and had their uniform numbers permanently deleted from Samsung. However, with the exception of winning the top scorer title with 107 points in 2021, it was pointed out that Ja-wook Koo’s growth, which failed to win the personal title, was empty.
After his professional debut, his experience on the national team was the only age-restricted 2017 Asian Professional Baseball Championship (APBC). This proves that Ja-wook Koo has not yet established himself as a hitter representing the league.
Ahead of the opening of the 2022 season, Ja-wook Koo signed a multi-year contract worth 12 billion won over five years. Samsung had a firm will to work with Koo Ja-wook before obtaining FA qualification. It was true that the size of his contract was very large, but considering his age of 29 years before the season, he was born in February 1993, optimistic prospects were raised that he would enjoy his prime and make enough ‘ransom money’.
Last year, Ja-wook Koo had a batting average of 0.293, 5 homers, 38 RBIs, and an OPS (on-base percentage + slugging percentage) of 0.741. The batting pace was revived late at the end of the season, but it was too late to reverse not only the team performance but also the individual performance. He also failed to hit a double-digit home run that continued until 2021. The WAR (Based on Kaby Report), which indicates the contribution to victory compared to substitute players, was 1.49, the lowest in the pro, and it was a ‘career low’ season.
Due to injury, he only played 99 games, making it the season where he played the fewest games. Ja-wook Koo’s sluggish performance also coincided with the decline in Samsung’s team performance. It was only the first year of his 5-year contract, but even criticism that Samsung’s non-FA long-term contract had failed was raised.
This year, Ja-wook Koo received an annual salary of 2 billion won, ranking first in the entire KBO league. There is a loud voice that Ja-wook Koo, who is entering his 30-year-old season, needs to establish himself as a leader who leads the entire team with a sense of responsibility. He continues to play without injury, and his personal record is also required to rebound.
Ja-wook Koo made his first appearance in the Korean Series in 2015, when he made his first-team debut, but Samsung only finished runner-up. Since then, Samsung has not advanced to the Korean Series, so Ja-wook Koo does not have a championship ring. It is noteworthy whether Ja-wook Koo, who has been recording hits in all three demonstration games and is raising the sense of hitting, will take the lead in restoring the Samsung dynasty this season and win the championship ring.