“You made a good impression on me, and it was nice to see you so friendly.”
Next year may be the turning point in his career. The playoffs haven’t even started yet, but Lotte Giants pitcher Choi Jun-yong, 22, is already looking forward to the new season.
Expectations are sky-high for new manager Kim Tae-hyung. He won the Korean Series in his first year in 2015 and has since led the team to seven consecutive Korean Series appearances and three championships.
His contract with Lotte is for three years and a total of 2.4 billion won. Along with KT Wiz manager Lee Kang-cheol, he is the highest paid active manager. At his inauguration ceremony, he said, “The goal is to advance to the fall baseball and win the championship within my term.” This shows his trust and confidence in the Lotte squad, which is full of potential players.
He has intuition that goes beyond data, and he is especially good at throwing a game-winning pitch with a one-hit wonder at the plate and a quick pitching change on the mound.
In that sense, one of the measures of Lotte’s performance next year will be the health of Choi Jun-yong. Along with Koo Seung-min and Kim Won-joong, he is a key part of the team’s bullpen. This year, he went 2-3 with 14 saves and a 2.45 ERA, earning him a spot on the Asian Professional Baseball Championship (APBC) team. He has a fastball that can reach over 150 kilometers and a newer changeup sweeper.
However, his 47 games and 47⅔ innings was a bit of a disappointment. He had an injury-plagued start to the season. Since his rookie season in 2020, he has earned a spot in the bullpen with acclaim, but has yet to throw a full season without injury.
That’s why Choi has been bulking up this winter. In particular, his upper body muscles have become strong enough to stand out. “It’s hard when I’m sweating, but I feel good afterward,” he said, adding that he was inspired by rookie Jeon Mir (18).
He hasn’t had a chance to talk to new coach Kim Tae-hyung yet. He only had the experience of attending a meeting. Choi and other key players will join the squad in training next week to meet Kim face-to-face.
“I’ve only heard that he’s scary,” Choi said. I haven’t talked to him much yet, but I have a really good impression of him. He’s like a father figure,” he laughed.
There is one person who has given him advice. It’s Oh Hyun-taek, the 2018 Hold King who played for Doosan and Lotte. He was a close senior to Choi Jun-yong when they were players.
“You just keep doing what you’re doing. He said, ‘You train so hard, the coach will love you for it. It gave me confidence.”
As for this season, he says, “Injuries were my biggest disappointment. Next year, starting in April, my goal is to play a full season without injuries. The goal is to throw the good pitches I had at the end of the season all year long.” He also plans to resume Pilates for flexibility soon.
“My biggest disappointment was not being able to do that this year,” he says, “because I’m usually the type of guy who throws with a lot of confidence when I’m down 0-2 in the count. I kept having to adjust to the changeup. It didn’t feel good.” 굿모닝토토 주소
It’s also a good thing that Choi’s soul mates have come to Lotte, from outfielder Lee Jung-woo at the beginning of the season to catcher Baek Doo-san this winter. “We’ve been friends since elementary school,” Choi said. It’s unfortunate that we haven’t played together since middle school. They are my best friends in life,” he said, adding, “It’s great to be able to play together on the same team.”
“(Yoo) Gang-i told me that there is no better baseball than the fall season. Lee Min-ho (LG) and Choi Soon-joon (KT) also tease me a lot, saying, ‘Have you been to fall baseball?’ I really want to make it to the postseason next year, and I want to show that I can do well in fall baseball.”