Koreans open Classic vs. tough Dutch squad
2009 runner-ups looking to avoid upset against talented Netherlands lineup
TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Seasoned sluggers who helped Korea excel in recent international competitions will once again assume a vital role in the Asian powerhouse's efforts to overcome the Netherlands on Saturday in its first game in Pool B in the 2013 World Baseball Classic first round.
While Korean players may be largely unknown to an international audience, some of those veterans have propelled their national team to reach the semifinal in the 2006 Classic, secure second place in the '09 Classic and win gold medals in the '08 Beijing Olympics and the '10 Asian Games.
Two big names are missing from the Korean squad, as Cincinnati Reds outfielder Shin-Soo Choo and Los Angeles Dodgers starter Hyun-Jin Ryu have both declined to play.
Despite the absence of Major Leaguers, skipper Joong-Il Ryu has built a formidable lineup featuring 30-year-old infielder Dae-Ho Lee of Japan's Orix Buffaloes and 36-year-old first baseman Seung-Yuop Lee of the domestic Samsung Lions.
Dae-Ho Lee enjoyed a spectacular 2012 season with Orix, batting .286 with 24 homers and leading Japan's Pacific League with 91 RBIs. When he played for Korea's Lotte Giants in '10, Lee finished the season as a leader in seven statistics, including batting average, home runs and RBIs.
Seung-Yuop Lee is the Asian baseball single-season home run record holder, with 56 during his 2003 season in the Korean league. Known as "Lion King" to Korean fans for his stellar stint with the Samsung Lions, he helped his team capture the league title in '12, with a .307 batting average and 85 RBIs.
Both Lees contributed significantly to Korea's winning a gold medal in the Beijing Olympics in 2008. In addition, Dae-Ho Lee was a member of the '09 Classic team. Seung-Yuop Lee participated in the 2006 Classic, finishing as the homer leader and sharing the RBI title with Team USA's Ken Griffey Jr.
Another noteworthy name is 35-year-old right-hander Jae-Weong Seo, the only team member with Major League experience. He spent four years with New York Mets in the early 2000s and later played for Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He is now pitching for the domestic Kia Tigers.
The Netherlands can be expected to put up a good fight, bolstered by several current and former Major Leaguers. Washington Nationals outfielder Roger Bernadina, Atlanta Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons, former Braves All-Star outfielder Andruw Jones and Tokyo Yakult Swallows slugger Wladimir Balentien will almost certainly give opposing pitchers a hard time on the mound.
Jones is now playing for Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan's Pacific League. During his 17-year Major League career, he hit 434 home runs and was selected to the All-Star Game five times. Meanwhile, Balentien has been the reigning homer king in Japan's Central League over the past two seasons.
As a contrast, the Dutch roster of pitchers suffers from the absence of several talents with U.S. experience, including Jair Jurrjens, Kenley Jansen and Rick van den Hurk.
Major pitching responsibilities will probably be shared by Twins prospect Shairon Martis and right-hander Robbie Cordemans, the winning hurler in the team's 2011 victory against Cuba in the now discontinued World Baseball Cup.
The team is managed by Hensley Meulens, who is also the current batting coach for the San Francisco Giants.
Debby Wu is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.