Lee shows off power against Padres and continues strong start to MLB career

By | March 31, 2024

Lee flaunts power vs. Padres, continues hot start to MLB career originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

SAN DIEGO – The Giants had three players at the top of their offseason wish list and watched in horror as the first two signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers, adding an MVP and one of the world’s best pitchers to a team that although winning the National League West would be favored. President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi wasn’t about to let the third get away.

The Giants responded by easily outbidding others and offering $113 million to Jung Hoo Lee, but they were confident the South Korean center fielder could make an easy transition to Major League Baseball. After seeing Lee practice hitting early in camp, Zaidi felt even more confident about the investment.

“The bat-to-ball skills, the ability to put things right, and then the ability to really launch the ball when he wants to, it’s pretty exciting,” he said early in the spring. “It’s BP and we’ve seen him take over BP before. The big challenge will come when he plays in the Major League, but it was impressive.”

It only took a few swings in camp for the Giants to get the feeling that Lee might be more like his idol, Ichiro Suzuki, than they had known when they signed him. Suzuki was chasing batting titles, not double-digit homer seasons, but he had the natural ability to swing for the fences when necessary.

During his first few days in Scottsdale, Lee, a .340 hitter in the KBO, let it fly at times, hitting long home runs from the party deck in right field at Scottsdale Stadium. The Giants hoped there was more power than most thought, and Saturday night that came true.

Lee nearly homered in his third at-bat, ripping a Dylan Cease slider deep into the right field corner for a sacrifice fly. Three innings later, he fired on a slider from funky left-hander Tom Cosgrove.

The home run was the big highlight on a night full, something even Lee’s teammates acknowledged after a 9-6 victory. Michael Conforto hit a grand slam and Jordan Hicks had a dominant first start in orange and black, but it was Lee who was doused in a beer binge.

Lee’s teammates know how important he is to the organization’s hopes of not only competing this year, but winning back parts of the fan base. Sometimes, over the course of three games, they’ve discovered that they’re also becoming fans.

“We love watching him hit,” Conforto said. “Everyone watches when he’s up there. Just his discipline, his eye on the plate, his ability to stay on the field, stay through the middle of the field, and then obviously we saw a little bit of power – a lot of power as he gets the right pitch. He’s been great. We’ll continue to put him at the top of the lineup and let him set the tone for us.”

Lee isn’t your traditional “appointment TV” hitter. The home run was without a doubt, but it was a modest 100 miles per hour and landed 400 feet away. What he does so well, however, is demonstrate the traits that most hitters dream of.

Through three games, Lee has seen 59 pitches and only swung and missed once. He struckout in his first at bat in the big league, but since then he has four hits in eleven at bats and a pair of sacrifice flies.

The Giants have been hitting hard up and down the lineup through three games, and Lee is keeping pace with those brought in as sluggers. In addition to the homer, he had two groundouts that qualified as “hard-hit balls” according to Statcast statistics. He also had two on Friday, including a 170 km per hour single and a 170 km per hour lineout. In his MLB debut, he hit two balls.

“It’s not about how I’m evaluated, but in the KBO I had a lot of doubles and triples,” Lee said through interpreter Justin Han. “I put the bat to the ball and that’s what I’m thinking about now.”

Lee’s hair dripped as he gave nearly twenty minutes of interviews. Earlier, he had sneaked into the hallway to trade three autographed baseballs and a hat for the souvenir baseball. The family who caught the ball told him that Ha-Seong Kim is their favorite San Diego Padre, which made the evening a little more special for Lee, who considers Kim a good friend.

The two have spoken often during this series, but Lee refrained from eye contact when Kim robbed him twice on grounders early in the game. In the fifth inning, the Padres changed their lineup and moved Kim to the bag at second base, hoping to cut off a third grounder with a runner on third base. Lee instead threw a high ball to the right.

His next at bat again yielded a ball that Kim had not shot at. The home run easily cleared the wall to right and Lee passed Kim as he jogged around the bases. Kim helped pave the way for Lee to get such a big contract when he decided to come to America, and after his big night, Lee said he hopes more talent is on the way.

“Ha-Seong and I would like to try to create a good environment for players coming from the KBO to play in the Major Leagues in the future,” he said. “We talk about that a lot.”

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