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International Free Agent Profile: Jae-Gyun Hwang

Posted by the Lotte Giants, does infielder Jae-Gyun Hwang fill any of the Mets' needs, and would he be a worthwhile addition?

Jae-Gyun Hwang
Jae-Gyun Hwang
Masterpress/Getty Images

Jae-Gyun Hwang was born on July 28, 1988 in Seoul, the capital of South Korea. He attracted attention as a teenager, and was drafted straight out of high school. The Hyundai Unicorns selected the youngster 24th overall in the 2006 KBO draft. He made his professional debut in 2007 as a 19-year-old and hit a respectable .300/.323/.375 in 171 plate appearances.

Over the 2008 offseason, the Hyundai Unicorn franchise folded, and in their place the Woori Heroes were born. Issues between Woori Bank, individual team owners (a rarity in Asian sports, where teams are generally a subsidiary of their corporate sponsors), and the KBO led to Woori breaking the naming deal in the middle of the season. Referred to only as the ‘Heroes,' the team was left unable to pay the salaries of their players. The stars and veterans of the team were traded, paving the way for a number of rookies to get regular playing time. Among those that benefited were a 21-year-old Jung-Ho Kang and a 20-year-old Jae-Gyun Hwang. Unlike the aforementioned Kang, who hit .271/.334/.392 in 408 plate appearances, Hwang only batted .239/.279/.288 over 333 plate appearances.

Hwang regrouped during the 2009 offseason and had an All-Star campaign that year. The right-hander hit .284/.349/.453 with 18 home runs and 30 stolen bases in 133 games. Once again, the third baseman was unable to keep his momentum going after a successful season, and hit only .225/.315/.290 through the first few months of the 2010 season. After 52 games, the newly renamed Nexen Heroes traded the third baseman to the Lotte Giants. Owing to his popularity—and that of his team—Hwang was selected to the KBO All-Star Game despite sub-optimal numbers. Hwang justified his selection by delivering a game-winning walk-off single to help the Eastern All-Stars win.

He finished out his season batting .226/.289/.423 in 42 games with the Giants, giving him a .225/.303/.350 line on the season with six home runs and 18 stolen bases. Continuing the see-saw pattern of his career, Hwang recovered from a down season to post a strong one in 2011, hitting .289/.360/.445 with 12 home runs and 12 stolen bases in 117 games.

The third baseman developed into a semi-reliable starter for the Lotte Giants. His power numbers dropped, but he became more efficient on the base paths. He hit .272/.335/.346 with four home runs and 26 stolen bases in 133 games during the 2012 season, and .274/.350/.389 with seven home runs and 22 stolen bases in 128 games during the 2013 season. In July 2012, Hwang was part of a historic Eastern All-Star team in which all ten starting players—eight starting position players plus the designated hitter and starting pitcher—were members of the Lotte Giants, the first time in league history that such a thing had ever occurred.

In 2014, the 26-year-old Hwang posted his best season up to that point. Over 128 games, the third baseman hit .321/.388/.475 with 12 home runs and 17 stolen bases. Despite putting up an All-Star season, the infielder's 2014 is remembered by many for a singular moment of failure. In a July game against the Samsung Lions, Hwang pulled off one of the worst slides of all-time.

That September, Hwang participated in the 2014 Asian Games playing for Team Korea. South Korea trounced Thailand 15-0, Hong Kong 12-0, and Taiwan 10-0 in the preliminary round, defeated China 7-2 in the semifinals, and defeated Taiwan once again to earn the gold medal.

After switching his training regimen during the offseason, Hwang posted the best numbers in his professional baseball career. He came out of the box on fire, swatting two home runs over three games in March, and continued stinging the ball. He ended the year with a .290/.350/.521 batting line, hitting 26 home runs—and magnificently flipping 26 bats.

At the end of September, as the Giants were fighting for a playoff spot, it was leaked to the media that teammate Ah-Seop Son was interested in playing baseball in the United States. In mid-October, Hwang announced his intention to be posted during the 2016 offseason. The announcement put the Heroes in something of a bind, as  only weeks before Son had himself requested to be posted. Never in KBO history had two players on the same team asked to have their rights transferred to an MLB club via the posting system. The official KBO rules and bylaws stated that a team could send only one player to a foreign club per year, but they did not specifically state how many players a team could post over the same period of time. The Giants asked for a clarification in the rules, and the KBO clarified that a team cannot post more than one player per offseason, but it can post a second if the first posting is unsuccessful.

The Giants ended the speculation at the end of October by announcing that they would post Son and retain Hwang. A few weeks later, they posted Son. Unfortunately for him, not a single MLB club bid for his services, meaning that his MLB aspirations would be on hold for at least one more year. His poor fortune was good for Jae-Gyun Hwang, however, as the Giants would accommodate his posting request.

Major League Baseball teams will have four business days to submit their bids. Once all bids are in, and the Lotte Giants are informed of the highest bid, theywill have four business days to either accept or reject it. If the highest bid is accepted, the winning club will have exclusive rights to negotiate a contract with Hwang; if the highest bid is rejected, the infielder will be declared ineligible to play in MLB for the 2016 season and cannot be reposted until November 2016.

2011 23 117 458 .289 .360 445 12 40 78 12/18
2012 24 133 504 .272 .335 .346 4 38 81 26/34
2013 25 128 559 .274 .350 .389 7 49 78 22/33
2014 26 128 550 .321 .388 .475 12 53 86 17/27
2015 27 144 596 .290 .350 .521 26 48 122 11/21

Hwang credits his training regimen that focused on adding muscle to his six-foot frame for his increased power output in 2015. Unfortunately, as his power spiked, so did his strikeout rate. He averaged roughly a 15 percent strikeout rate between 2011 and 2014, Hwang's strikeout rate rose almost five percent, to 20.4, in 2015. Against tougher pitching in the United States, many wonder whether the infielder will be able to keep his plate discipline in check. The right-handed hitter does not possess any major platoon splits, so he would not be able to minimize this weakness by primarily facing pitchers of one handedness or the other.

It's worth noting that Hwang's power numbers disappeared in the second half of the season. He hit twenty-two home runs in the five months before the All-Star Game—two home runs in March, five in April, seven in May, six in June, and two in July—but hit only four over the rest of the season—two in August and two in September.

Hwang is a natural third baseman, possessing good range and a strong arm. His mobility and arm have allowed him to moonlight at shortstop from time to time, but he does not have the tools to play the position in anything but an emergency situation. The infielder does possess a bit of speed, though he has generally been somewhat reckless on the base paths for his career. Though he has stolen as many as 30 bases in a single season, and has averaged roughly 20 in the last five years, his caught-stealing rate is high enough that he is not adding much value by stealing bases.

With David Wright having been diagnosed with spinal stenosis, the Mets may be in the market for a third baseman that can fill in for prolonged periods of time should the veteran be unable to play. Does Jae-Gyun Hwang fill that need, and if he does, will he be a cost-effective option?