He hit home runs in response to doubts that he might have a weakness for fastballs. He’s answered back-to-back games with hits, stolen bases, walks, and everything else a player can do. One by one, Lee Jung-hoo (San Francisco) is erasing all the concerns and proving that his price tag wasn’t overblown.

Lee went 1-for-2 with a walk, a run scored, an RBI and a stolen base in an exhibition game against the Colorado Rockies on Friday at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale, Arizona, starting in center field. In his first at-bat in the top of the first inning, Lee took a 90.4 mph fastball off Colorado starter Dakota Hudson on a 0-pitch, 1-strike count and grounded out to second base. But in her second at-bat of the inning, she got on base. With two on and two out, Lee took advantage of a three-pitch, one-strike count and picked off a high 87.5-mph slider for a walk. He didn’t advance any further, however, as the next batter, Mike Yastrzemski, grounded out to short.

Lee’s hit came in the bottom of the fourth inning on his third at-bat with runners on first and third. Facing Colorado’s second pitcher, Ryan Feltner, Lee worked a 0-2 pitch count with two strikes and then drove an 87-mph changeup outside the strike zone for a single to left field. Lee, who had gotten his first hit the day before, reached base for the second straight game before being replaced by pinch-hitter Chase Pinder to end the night.

In five exhibition games, Lee has a .462 batting average, .533 slugging percentage, .769 on-base percentage, and 1.302 OPS. He has one home run and two doubles, two walks, and one stolen base. He’s the definition of an all-around player.

It’s a terrifying performance that erases any doubts you might have had about him. The Athletic, an American sports publication, ranked Lee as the No. 2 worst free agent signing of all time. The Athletic explained that “the criteria for selecting the worst free agents is the terms of the contract rather than the player’s skills,” which translates to six years and $113 million (about 15.7 billion won) for an unknown Korean player who hasn’t played a single game in the major leagues. It was also pointed out that the contract, despite its size, was player-friendly, with an opt-out clause in the fourth year.

But Lee is proving San Francisco right once again with his performance in exhibition games. He’s adjusted to the major leagues faster than expected, making the regular season even more exciting. Manager Bob Melvin, who pegged Lee as the leadoff and center fielder from the start of spring training, said, “I’d be shocked if he wasn’t batting leadoff on Opening Day.”

In addition, Lee has shown that he can handle major league fastballs. When NBC Sports Bay Area broke the news of Lee’s major league challenge last November, they noted that “Lee comes from the KBO, where fastballs average 93 mph (149.7 km/h), compared to the major leagues, where they average 88 mph (141.6 km/h). He may strike out a lot during the initial adjustment process,” but Lee hasn’t been fazed by fastballs from major league pitchers in excess of 150 mph in the exhibition games. When he homered off Ryan Nelson against Arizona on the first day, Nelson’s fastball was clocked at 94.7 mph (152.4 km/h), and the next day against Texas, he answered the question of whether he would be “vulnerable to hard fastballs” by hitting a 95 mph (152.9 km/h) pitch for a double. He struck out just once in 13 at-bats, so at least in that regard, he was right on track with Steamer’s prediction of a “9.1%” strikeout rate.

Since reaching the major leagues, Lee has proven himself to be undaunted by the prejudice against him and has proven himself to be a force to be reckoned with. We can’t wait to see what he does in the regular season.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *