Ha Jae-hoon (33-SSG Landers) made history as a pitcher in his first year in the KBO. Now he’s looking to make history as a hitter.
Ha joined the first-team roster on April 24 against the Incheon LG Twins. Despite the small sample size, he started the season with a .800 batting average (4-for-5), one home run, three RBIs, and a 2.633 OPS.
Most notably, all three of his hits were long balls. Ha is a big outfielder who can deliver a hit at any time, and he’s shown that he can do so immediately after joining the first team, making SSG manager Kim Won-hyung smile.
Ha bounced around the minor leagues and Japanese independent leagues before being selected by the SK Wyverns (now SSG) with the 16th overall pick in the second round of the 2019 KBO Draft. While he played as an outfielder overseas, the KBO was different. He was drafted as a pitcher, but the team convinced him to change his position to pitcher, utilizing his talent with a powerful fastball in the mid-150 kilometers per hour.
The move seemed to pay off. In his rookie year, he finished first in saves with a 1.98 ERA in 61 games, 59 innings pitched, 36 saves, and 64 strikeouts. He became the first Korean player in KBO history to record more than 30 saves in his debut season.
Despite his talent, Ha had to leave the mound early after groaning with shoulder pain, but he turned around and picked up the bat again, and has been making his presence felt as a hitter. In his first season as a hitter last year, he batted .215 (23-for-107) with six home runs, 13 RBIs, and a .704 OPS. More than half of his 23 hits, 13, went for extra bases.
Heading into this season, he spent the offseason working on his game. He was sent to Geelong Korea in the Australian Baseball League (ABL) and worked nonstop until spring training and scrimmages. Unfortunately, he suffered a major injury in a scrimmage, fracturing his shoulder blade while fielding, but he recovered quickly to join the first team.
“It was the first practice game… (the injury) was upsetting. But it can’t be helped, so I was waiting while taking care of my body to come back quickly. The doctor said, ‘Don’t do (exercise),’ but I couldn’t resist. I think the fact that I managed my weight helped me to come back with a good feeling. I was upset, but I forgot about it the moment I got hurt,” he said.
“I was half worried and half wanting to do well because I had a long break. I think I was confident because I had a good start (batting second),” he said, adding, “I don’t think I can hit it short. I played a lot of games in Australia, and I think I retained what I felt. I think my senses are good now, whether it’s hitting long balls or making contact. It feels good to have the feeling back.” 안전놀이터
Given his late start to the season, we were curious to know what Ha’s goals are for this year. “I think I’ve gone down as far as I can go, and there’s nowhere else to go. Now that I’m back, I can only do well. I’m only thinking about what I’m doing well and what’s going to work,” he said.
“Finishing the season is a natural goal,” he continued, adding, “I have 36 saves, so I’ll try to hit 36 home runs,” he laughed.
Ha Jae-hoon has made a mark in the history of the KBO as a pitcher. If his hard work pays off as a hitter, he could become the first player in the league to win a title in both capacities. Let’s see how he performs this season.