Current KBO Players Most likely to Join MLB in 2016
The only two players currently playing in South Korea’s KBO who I think have a reasonable shot at playing in MLB in 2016 are Eric Thames and Byung-ho Park. They completely dominated KBO’s batting statistics this past season, both have proven records of performance, and both are still relatively young.
Eric Thames, who will be 29 in 2016, has already enjoyed some MLB success, batting a combined .250 with .727 OPS in more than 500 MLB at-bats in 2011 and 2012. After a strong rookie year for the Blue Jays in 2011 at age 24, he slumped in 2012 and had an injury plagued minor league season in 2013.
Moving to KBO in 2014, he was an immediate success. He was even better in 2015. His slash line, .381/.497/.790 led KBO in all three categories. He hit 47 HRs and stolen 40 bases in 48 attempts, becoming KBO’s first 40-40 player.
Byung-ho Park, who will also be 29 in 2016, hit 53 HRs in 2015, becoming the first KBO player to hit 50 or more in consecutive seasons, and he led the KBO in HRs for the fourth straight seasons. His 146 RBIs set a single season KBO record. His slash line, .343/.438/.714, were 5th/5th/2nd best in the league.
The only real concern about Thames and Park as MLB players is just how wildly their numbers are inflated by playing in KBO. KBO is an extreme hitters’ league right now, and predicting how much Thames’ and Park’s performance would drop in MLB is hard to gage.
The pitcher with a shot moving up to MLB in 2016 is Hyeon-jung Yang. His 2.44 ERA led the KBO by a lot — no other qualifier had an ERA lower than 3.13.
However, I’m not sold on Yang. MLB passed on him when he was posted a year ago, so he’s now a year older (he’ll be 28 in 2016). More importantly, his other numbers really don’t look significantly different from 2015 when he posted a 4.25 ERA. He’s a good pitcher, but his K/BB ratios don’t suggest he’s capable of making the jump to MLB.
However, I could see any of Yang, Kwang-hyun Kim, Eric Hacker, Andy Van Hekken or Josh Lindblom moving on to Japan’s NPB next year. For that matter, the odds are at least as good for either Thames or Park playing in NPB next year as they are for MLB.