What kind of evolution will the Year of the Blue Dragon show?
KIA Tigers left-hander Choi Ji-min, 20, had his best year in 2023. The Gangneung Aces ace was the No. 1 pick in the 2022 rookie class, but he struggled to a 13.50 ERA in just six games. His fastball was under 140 mph and his delivery was shaky, but in 2023, he transformed into an elite bullpen arm with a 6-3 record, 3 saves, 12 holds, 2.12 ERA, 21.1 K/BB ratio, and 1.20 WHIP in 58 games.
Such a dramatic transformation in one year is rare. After a long stint in the second division, he worked hard to get up to speed and found a lot of confidence in his pitches in the Australian League during the off-season. He impressed in spring training and exhibition games and was the most trusted left-handed reliever from day one. Choi was a reliable option for multiple innings as well as save situations.
He was named to the national team for the Guangzhou Asian Games, where he pitched four scoreless innings out of the bullpen and was a key part of the gold medal victory. The highlight of the 2023 season was the Asia Professional Baseball Championship (APBC) in November at the Tokyo Dome. He got out of a bases-loaded jam in the seventh inning of a 1-2 loss to Australia, then pitched a scoreless inning of one-hit ball with one walk and two strikeouts against Chinese Taipei.
In the final against Japan,
He entered with runners on first and second in the eighth inning of a 2-2 tie and retired five batters in order in the bottom of the ninth. He got out of the jam with a swinging strikeout and a grounder to second base, then retired the next five batters in order in the ninth, 토토사이트 including a swinging strikeout. It was a stunning performance that stunned the 40,000-strong Japanese crowd into silence. Add in his four-game scoreless streak at the Guangzhou Asian Games, and he has now pitched seven scoreless games in international competition.
The five-hit perfect game against the Japanese batsmen was a testament to Choi’s leap forward. At the same time, it also raised expectations for another evolutionary step in the 2024 season. The 150-plus mph fastball is back. His aggressive, wild delivery and deceptive changeup made him a tough pitcher to catch.
Of course, there was homework. As a middle reliever, he gave up runners in scoring position. Choi Ji-min said on the club’s broadcast, “I was disappointed that I gave up too many runs. I was very disappointed because I gave up all of my brothers’ runs.” He said that he wanted to be a pitcher who could prevent the successor runners from scoring, even though he could be hit.
Choi Ji-min is expected to play a key role in KIA’s 2024 season as well. In his third year as a professional, he has set a goal to become a stronger closer. His mission is to be a closer who is responsible for one inning, not one out. He will be joined by closer Jung Hae-young and right-hander Jeon Sang-hyun. A one-run ERA will be another goal. All eyes will be on Choi Ji-min in his third year.