Some exciting news yesterday from MLB.com. Jung Hoo Lee of the Kiwoom Heroes will be posted and become a free agent next winter going into the 2024 MLB season. Lee is 24 years old and has been hitting an elite level while playing top-notch defense in the outfield. Granted, the KBO is not quite on par with the MLB from a pitching standpoint skill-wise but check out some of the numbers over his six-year career in Korea.
For starters, Lee has a career slash of .342/.407/.495. This past season in '22, he recorded a line of .349/.421/.575 striking out only 32 times with 66 walks in 553 at-bats. Couple that with 23 home runs and 113 RBIs, and you see why he won MVP this past season. Sometimes, when you hit that well, you can at least see the raw talent translating over time in the MLB, as we've seen with Shohei Ohtani, Seiya Suzuki, and others that have come from overseas.
In 2022, Lee's wOBA was .422, while his wRC+ sat at 175. However, there have been other years that Lee has been put incredible numbers. Let's look at all six seasons of his, as it begins to show this guy may have what it takes to succeed in the MLB:
2017: .324/.395/.417/112 wRC+
2018: .355/.412/.477/ 126 wRC+
2019: .336/.386/.456/ 134 wRC+
2020: .333/.397/.52/139 wRC+
2021: .360/.438/.522/160 wRC+
2022: .349/.421/.575/175 wRC+
As numbers don't lie, he has gotten better and more efficient at the plate every year. In '22, he recorded a video game-like 5.1 K% with a walk rate of 10.5%. He also raised his ISO from .162 to .226 this past season, so it will be interesting to see if this new power surge continues for him. Defensively, Lee recorded 304 putouts with only two errors, suitable for a .994 fielding percentage. In the past five years, he has only recorded eight errors in total throughout 3,528.1 innings.
Chicago Cubs: Is Jung Hoo Lee a viable option in Chicago?
For the Cubs, Lee's imminent departure to the MLB is interesting for one reason: Ian Happ is a free agent next winter. If the Cubs elect the unfortunate path of letting him go, Lee's ability to play all three outfield spots with extreme efficiency would be a sufficient replacement. Of course, the Cubs have in-house options that can help man left field if Happ goes, but Lee will be an intriguing option that will undoubtedly be considered. Of course, it is too soon to determine if that will be a viable solution depending on what happened with Happ and how the Cubs' outfield prospects do this coming year.
Interestingly enough, Lee has hired Scott Boras as his agent. For the Cubs, that means little other than that we can at least remember the Cubs have rekindled their relationship with Boras this winter, landing Cody Bellinger and nearly missing on Xander Bogaerts. We will have to monitor the outfield situation as the 2023 season progresses and see how much of a reality landing Lee can be for the Cubs.