It’s been five years since he was first tapped as the heir apparent to Yang Hyun-jong. Kim Ki-hoon (23-KIA) is headed to Australia to try to fix his pitching anxiety.
The KIA Tigers officially announced on July 27 that they are sending a team to the Canberra Cavaliers of the Australian Baseball League (ABL)안전놀이터. As Geelong Korea’s participation in the ABL was canceled this year, KIA sought an alternative way to develop prospects in the winter, and team president Shim Jae-hak met with the Canberra Cavaliers’ owner last month and agreed to send the team.
As a result, five players – pitchers Kwak Do-kyu, Kim Ki-hoon, Kim Hyun-soo, Hong Won-bin, and infielder Park Min – will be traveling to Australia in Canberra’s uniform. They will play a total of 40 games, starting with the ABL’s opening game next month on January 17, before returning to KIA on January 21, when the season ends.
The most prominent of the five is Kim Ki-hoon. While he is the most recognized, he hasn’t lived up to the hype and is heading to Australia with his juniors and teammates.
Before Lee was crowned the 2021 Rookie of the Year, KIA had one more prospect who was touted as the next Yang Hyun-jong. Like Lee, he was a left-handed pitcher who was drafted in the first round and made waves when he cited Gwangju Dongseong Go senior Yang Hyun-jong as a role model.
The protagonist of the story is Kim Ki-hoon, the 2019 KIA first round pick out of Gwangju Dongseong High School. However, contrary to expectations, he struggled in his debut year and the following year, and decided to join the military early.
Kim Ki-hoon’s main problem was his fastball. Despite having an exceptional fastball, he was unable to capitalize on it with unstable command. Even when he had a favorable count, he would often get into full counts. This led to a bitter taste in his mouth after going 3-6 with a 5.56 ERA in 19 games in his debut year, and the following year, he went 4-4 with a 5.37 ERA in 22 games without a win. Kim eventually decided to fulfill his military obligation by enlisting as a commerce officer in March 2021.
Kim seemed to use his enlistment as a turning point. After going 4-2 with a 4.15 ERA in 13 games in his first year in 2021, he stabilized with a 6-2 record and 2.95 ERA in 16 games in 2022. “I got some balance in the military,” said Kim, who struck out 94 batters in 85 1/3 innings last year while walking just 31.
Kim immediately returned to the first team after his discharge in September last year and pitched five games with a 1.04 ERA, but this year, his first full-time season out of the military, he bounced between the first and second teams again, going 2-0 with a 4.60 ERA in 29 games. After joining the opening roster, he gradually spent more and more time in the second team, ending his fifth season as a professional on a down note.
“We decided to send the players who needed practical experience due to military service and those who lacked first-team experience to give them a chance to practice,” said Shim Jae-hak, expressing his expectations for the five players, adding, “We expect our players to improve their skills against high-level foreign players.”
Among the players heading to Australia, Kim Ki-hoon is the only first-time nominee. He is also the only player who has been dubbed the next Yang Hyun-jong since his rookie year. Here’s why he should make Australia the promised land.