Giants GM Putila praises Lee Jung-hoo’s work ethic, skills

In October last year, San Francisco Giants general manager Pete Putila traveled to Seoul to watch a South Korean star outfielder that his Major League Baseball (MLB) club had long coveted: Lee Jung-hoo of the Kiwoom Heroes. Lee, the 2022 most valuable player in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), had been injured but was prepared to make one final appearance before his home fans at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul. Even though Lee ended up making just one plate appearance, Putila believes it was well worth the trip. Some two months later, the Giants signed Lee to a six-year, US$113 million contract, the largest deal ever awarded to a South Korean player via posting. With Lee in his first spring training with his new club in Arizona this week, Putila told South Korean media Thursday that the Giants are "very confident" Lee can make a smooth transition to the majors. "I think he's a very hard worker. He's very dedicated to the game, and we're very confident that he's going to make any adjustments that he needs to," Putila said at Scottsdale Stadium. "And he just has very special contact skills with the bat, and he moves gracefully in the outfield. So we're confident in him, and we're going to get him all of the support possible." Giants manager Bob Melvin said earlier this week that he "would be shocked" if Lee isn't the leadoff hitter on Opening Day. The Giants have said they also liked his center field defense. In 2023, the Giants cycled through 11 players to handle center field duties. Rookie Luis Matos logged the most games (57) and innings (438) there, but he ranked 170th among 174 players who appeared in center field in outs above average (OAA), which looks at how many outs a player has saved. As a team, the Giants' outfielders ranked 28th out of 30 MLB teams in OAA, and 22nd in defensive runs saved, which measures the number of runs a player saved or cost his team relative to an average player. Their bats weren't great, either. Matos batted .250/.319/.342 with two home runs and 14 RBIs in 76 games. Colle ctively, the Giants' center fielders had an on-base plus slugging (OPS) of .666, putting them in 24th place in the bigs. Lee has a career .340 batting average in the KBO, the highest in league history among players with at least 3,000 plate appearances. He has walked 383 times while striking out only 304 times in 3,947 trips to the plate. Putila said the Giants were counting on Lee to address multiple issues for his team. "Center field defense is something very important to us, and I think it's a big upgrade for us," the executive said of Lee's signing. "And then, cutting down strikeouts is another goal of the club, and he's obviously one of the best contact hitters in the world. So I'm really excited about what he can bring there and also his energy. I think he's got a great personality, and he's going to bring a lot of energy to the clubhouse." Putila said Lee has fit in nicely with his new teammates thanks to his outgoing personality. Lee has been in Arizona since the start of February, even though pos ition players only have to report by next Tuesday. "I've been trying to explain to all of our staff just how big of a star he is in Korea, and I think already his personality here is winning over a lot of fans," Putila said. "I think he's going to have a lot of fans on both sides of the Pacific." Lee's openness will also help the South Korean star, Putila said. "He's very open to everything that we have to offer. And on the nutrition side, our team chef has been working with him to make sure that he has everything he needs there," he added. "He's very open to trying the food and open to the training that we have to provide. So we're excited to work with him." Putila didn't rule out another visit to South Korea to scout KBO players. "We keep our eye on all of the guys in the league and monitor their performance, but we like to keep those things more of a secret, who we're interested in," he said. "We're open to all positions." Source: Yonhap News Agency