‘I gave him over 1,000 at-bats’: 27-year-old Kia right-hander heads to Futures, but is there a turnaround?

After struggling all season, Hwang Dae-in (27-KIA Tigers) is headed to the Futures League.

KIA announced through the KBO on Monday that Hwang Dae-in, Jung Hae-young, Sean Anderson, Kim Dae-yu, and Yoon Do-hyun were removed from the first team roster. According to KIA officials, the players were sent to the second team to regain confidence, not because of injuries or other issues.

The move was expected. This year, Hwang was having one of his worst seasons, batting .212 (25-for-118) with three home runs and 18 RBIs in 36 games, with a .269 on-base percentage, .314 slugging percentage and .583 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage). It’s hard to avoid criticism, especially given that the position he was playing was first base, where batting productivity is crucial. Hwang Dae-in primarily shared playing time with Byun Woo-hyuk (23), finishing eighth in the league in batting average (0.201) and ninth in OPS (0.583), making KIA’s first base look like a weakness.

He was a highly touted right-handed hitting prospect when he was drafted. He was KIA’s first first-round pick in six years after Ahn Chi-hong, the second overall pick in the 2015 rookie draft. He showed promise as a mid-to-long range hitter with decent contact ability and power. However, he never fully realized his talent and had to settle his military issues through the Armed Forces Athletic Corps (Sangsang).

Upon his return in 2019, he was a member of the Platoon. In 2020, he had a career-high season with a .276 batting average and .798 OPS, but the following year, he was still on the platoon. Up until this point, he had an excuse. Right-handed hitters need more patience than left-handers to develop, and Hwang wasn’t given a full-time opportunity.

Then, last year, under new head coach Kim Jong-kook, he played over 100 games and 400 at-bats in a season for the first time. He set single-season records for most home runs (14) and most RBIs (91), helping KIA reach the postseason. With a .256 batting average and .716 OPS in 129 games, he was the least productive first baseman in the KBO last year, but he couldn’t deliver from day one.

Hwang’s problem was always the same. Even though he had his own hitting plan, he was always thinking too much. Whenever he overthinks, he ends up in unfavorable ball counts and is forced to swing the bat while being psychologically chased. As a result, his performance is up and down, with good at-bats followed by slumps.

When he was in a slump in mid-May in Gwangju, KIA power analysis coach Cho Seung-beom said, “(Hwang) often gets killed by bad pitches or pitches he didn’t think about because he’s batting when his timing is off. So I always tell him to do what he’s good at. I tell him to focus on the course where he can hit his strongest shots, and that’s not easy.”

In fact, Hwang isn’t the only one who can’t find a target. It takes time to establish your own strike zone and batting style, and even once you do, it’s easy to fall into a slump when you start thinking too much.

“Right-handed batters have a harder time adjusting than left-handed batters because they see a lot of pitches that are (relatively) outside of the zone. Anyway, there are very few hitters in the KBO who can hit both inside and outside the strike zone. So it’s important to know which pitches you’re good at and what kind of pitches you can hit,” he said. “Dae-in (Hwang) and Woo-hyuk (Byun) are hitters who need to have their hitting point in front of them. They are hitters who need to make long shots, so they need to hit the ball on a solid course with the correct hit point in front of them.” 안전놀이터

Now in his seventh year of professional baseball, Hwang has already accumulated 1179 at-bats in 352 games. He was the starting first baseman last year and this year, so you could argue that he’s already gotten over 1,000 at-bats. Compared to other right-handed hitters like Chae Eun-sung (33-Hanwha Eagles) and Yang Seok-hwan (32-Dusan Bears), who exploded their hitting potential late in their 30s, Hwang Dae-in was unable to get on base consistently for most of his seven seasons in the first team.

But he’s running out of excuses. The league’s wait-and-see right-handed hitters are starting to establish their own batting styles around Hwang’s age, and are starting to show results in the first team. It’s possible that he could reach his potential a little later, like fellow Futures League batting title contender Moon Sang-chul (32-KT Wiz), but KIA doesn’t have the luxury of having younger competitors already on the rise.

For the time being, Hwang Dae-in will have time to regroup in the Futures League. Whether that’s 10 days or a month is up to him. Can KIA’s fading right-handed big man turn things around for the rest of the season?

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