4 South Korean Baseball Players Turned MLB stars

kbo-mlb-logo And Oh Seung Hwan Cardinals Uniform

The Under-18 Baseball World Cup is the ultimate youth world championship sanctioned by the World Baseball Softball Confederation.

It’s a significant amateur tournament and its winners are some of the best softball and baseball players under 18 in the world.

While betting on youth sports isn’t common, many of these young players have gone on to have successful careers in both the KBO and the MLB and many online sportsbooks are currently offering bets on KBO games.

Many MLB players like Yu Darvish and Yasiel Puig have starred in the U-18 Baseball World Cup before going on to have successful MLB careers.

Darvish Puig

Darvish has been an ace pitcher for the Rangers, Dodgers, and Cubs, while Puig was a feared Dodgers hitter for many years.

The tournament has been hosted by the United States, Mexico, Canada, South Korea, Taiwan, and others, and awards a bronze, silver, or gold medal to the best youth teams in the world.

While Puig played for the Cuban U-18 team and Darvish played for the U-18 Japanese team, other countries have also been successful in the tournament. The US, Chinese Taipei, and South Korea have all won the tournament in recent years.

South Korea won the tournament 3 times between 2000 and 2010: in 2000, 2006, and 2008. The country is passionate about baseball, and in addition to their success at the youth level, South Korea has one of the most popular professional leagues in the world, the KBO.

Many MLB players have played for South Korea in the U-18 Baseball World Cup. Shin-Soo Choo, current Texas Ranger, pitched for South Korea in the tournament and was named the best pitcher of the event in one of the years when South Korea won the gold medal.

Shin Soo Choo Mariners Uniforms Sitting In Dugout And Running

Choo would later be drafted as an outfielder by the Seattle Mariners, but when he played as a youth he was a dominant pitcher. Based on his amateur success, it’s possible that he could have had a successful career in pitching instead of hitting.

Many other youth players like Choo have gone on to have successful MLB or KBO careers.

The KBO is currently playing its regular season and betting is available on many American sports betting websites or apps.

Not all South Korean MLB players played in the KBO before playing in the MLB, but betting is available in both leagues.

Both MLB betting sites and betting apps currently offer KBO betting, including moneyline, run line, and totals.

Since the MLB season is currently on hold, now is a good time to familiarize yourself with the KBO league, as it offers some of the only sports betting action currently available.

1- Chan Ho Park

Chan Ho Park has more wins in the MLB than any Asian born pitcher—he passed Hideo Nomo in his last MLB season when he recorded 2 wins each for the New York Yankees and Pittsburgh Pirates.

He also holds the distinction of being the first South Korean to ever play in the MLB.

In addition to playing in the MLB for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers, San Diego Padres, New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, New York Yankees, and Pittsburgh Pirates, Park has also pitched for the Orix Buffaloes of Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), and the Hanwha Eagles of the KBO League.

Born in Gongju, South Korea, Chan Ho Park achieved baseball excellence early on in his amateur career. He won the MVP award 3 times while playing at Gongju high school and was named MVP at 4 national prep tournaments.

Park never played in the KBO like many of his countrymen who have transitioned from professional KBO careers to MLB careers. Instead, Park gained notoriety playing for his high school team, the South Korea National Baseball team and competing in the 1993 Summer Universiade league.

He was then signed by the Dodgers in 1994 as an amateur free agent.

Chan Ho Park-Dodgers Uniform

He would go on to have more success with the Dodgers than he did with any other team, recording 80 wins and 54 losses with the team from 1994 to 2001.

Unfortunately, he would not have the same success with other teams.

Still, Park had a respectable career in the MLB and was able to carve out a bullpen role in his later years. He even excelled for one more year with the Dodgers as a 35-year-old in 2008, recording a 3.40 ERA in 95.1 innings.

Park is one of the most successful Asian born players in spite of the up and down nature of his career. His success with the Dodgers would foreshadow the great careers of many other South Koreans in the MLB.

2- Seung-hwan Oh

Owner of 2 nicknames: “The Final Boss” and “The Stone Buddha”, Oh is obviously capable of attracting the attention of a crowd. If proclivity to be given nicknames is any indication of greatness, Oh is a KBO player to keep your eye on.

Nicknamed the Stone Buddha for his cool demeanor in the most intense situations, Oh has everything you’d want out of a closer. Protecting a lead at the end of a game is critical for a great ballclub, and only the coolest of customers are stoic enough to protect slim leads in the heat of the moment.

In both the KBO and MLB, Oh has been up to the challenge. He’s saved 42 games in the MLB and has recorded at least 40 saves in 4 different seasons in both the KBO and the NPB.

Oh Seung Hwan Samsung Lions Uniform

He spent the 2016 and 2019 seasons pitching in the MLB and had good success after a long career as a closer in Asia. He struck out 11.6 batters per 9 innings in his debut 2016 season with the Cardinals while establishing himself as a top-flight closer.

He was an above-average relief pitcher until he struggled in his 2019 season with the Rockies. The Rockies play in a notoriously offense-friendly ballpark, so it’s possible Oh’s struggles in the ‘19 season can be attributed to his home park.

Regardless, he’s returned to the KBO for the ‘20 season. He currently has to serve 30 more games from a suspension, but once Oh returns to the Samsung Lions, he should provide a force in the back-end of their bullpen.

Check if Oh is available for a relief pitching appearance any time you’re making in-game bets — he can be the difference between the Lions holding a close lead or blowing the game.

3- Byung-hyun Kim

Kim excelled with the Diamondbacks and Red Sox before playing several seasons in the KBO near the end of his career.

Kim had a significant role in the 2001 World Series—the relief pitcher gave up the lead in both game 4 and game 5 of the series.

Despite this anomaly, he went on to save 36 games and play in the All-Star game during his next season with the Diamondbacks.

Kim also represented his home country in the 2006 World Baseball Classic.

Like his World Series appearance, his performance is tainted with a big loss. South Korea lost to Japan in the semi-finals, coming in third place in the tournament, after Kim gave up a 2-run home run in the 7th inning.

Kim’s most successful years came in Arizona where he was a lights-out relief pitcher from 2001 to 2003.

Byung Hyun Kim

While he spent most of these years playing for the Diamondbacks, he was traded to Boston in the middle of the 2003 season and also performed well there.

For the rest of his career in the MLB, Kim struggled to recapture the success he had with the Diamondbacks.

He played on the Rockies, Marlins, and again for the Diamondbacks, but failed to pitch effectively.

He returned to the KBO in the twilight of his career, pitching for the Nexen Heroes and the Kia Tigers for the last 4 years of his career.

His last appearance was in 2018 where he threw 9 ⅔ innings in the Australian Baseball League.

4- Shin-Soo Choo

While Chan Ho Park is the most successful South Korean pitcher to ever play in the majors, Shin-Soo Choo is the most acclaimed hitter from the country.

Choo has played for the Mariners, Indians, Reds, and Texas during his 15-year career.

While he was originally a pitcher in South Korea, the Mariners signed him with the intent to transition him to the outfield.

Shin Soo Choo In Texas And Mariners Uniforms

By his age 23-season, Choo was already an above-average regular, recording 1.5 wins above replacement that season for the Cleveland Indians. While he never fielded well, Choo consistently showed great plate discipline and was an above-average hitter for most of his career.

In 2015, he helped lead the Texas Rangers to a division title. While his contract was considered to be a bust after he was injured or ineffective in 2014, the first year of the contract, he performed well in 2015, reaching base at a .375 clip.

His on-base skills have made him one of the best position players to come out of South Korea.

While Choo never played in the KBO, he still plays for the Rangers in the MLB. If Choo gets on a hot streak, placing a moneyline or run line bet on the Rangers may prove wise, thanks to Choo’s excellent on-base skills.

Conclusion

Which KBO player do you think is poised for a breakout? Do they have a chance to play in the MLB?  Let me know in the comments.

Rex Hoffman / Author

Rex Hoffman is a passionate sports writer, with over five years of experience covering sports journalism in line with the Vegas betting landscape. His favorite subjects include football, basketball, and baseball. As a Las Vegas resident, he enjoys finding an edge against the local sportsbooks and aims to share his extensive knowledge with both beginners and experienced bettors. Rex also dabbles in horse racing wagering and enjoys typical casino fare like blackjack and poker in his spare time.