Making it to the major leagues is a monumental task that is accomplished by a mere fraction of the players who are lucky enough to have professional careers. Getting there and staying there for any length of time is another matter altogether. For many, opportunity ends up being in other professional leagues.
Many know about the success some find in Japan, but fewer are aware that the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) is home to quite a few former major leaguers as well. Most recently, Eric Thames found success in returning to the majors after a wildly productive three-year stint in the KBO. Keep reading to for more information on some of the players who have moved across the ocean and are thriving in this lesser-known but popular baseball league.
Roger Bernadina, Outfielder: The now-33-year-old left-handed hitter batted a combined .236 with 28 home runs over parts of seven big league seasons with four teams. However, he seems to have hit his stride with the Kia Tigers, where he batted .320 with 27 home runs, 111 RBIs and 32 stolen bases in 139 games in 2017. He will be making more than $1 million in 2018, as he returns for another year.
Hector Noesi, Pitcher: The right-hander, who is a teammate of Bernadina, won 20 games with a 3.48 in 2017 after posting 15 wins the previous season. His 35-10 career record and 3.44 ERA in Korea is a far cry from his 12-31 mark and 5.30 ERA in parts of five major league seasons. Still just 31, it is a definite possibility that his work stateside is not yet done, but he will be back with the Tigers next season on a $2 million contract.
Nick Evans, Infielder/Outfielder: A classic “4-A player,” who hit .257 with 10 home runs in 177 games (2009-11; 2014) with two teams, he could never quite grab a starting job. Now 32, he has become a star for the Doosan Bears, for whom he hit .296 with 27 home runs and 90 RBIs that past year.
Michael Choice, Outfielder: A 2010 first-round draft choice, the 28-year-old right-handed hitter used to be one of the top prospects in baseball. However, his .188 batting average and nine home runs over three big league seasons; along with a propensity for striking out derailed his aspirations. He looked rejuvenated last year with the Nexen Heroes, swatting 17 home runs and 42 RBIs, while batting .307 in 46 games. He is under contract for $600,000 with them in 2018, but it would not be a surprise to see him return to the majors one day.
Xavier Scruggs, First Base/Outfielder: Similar to Choice, the right-handed slugger had plenty of power but not enough contact to stick in the majors. His .227 batting average and one home run in 50 games over three seasons did nothing to earn him a permanent job. However, he exploded on the scene for the NC Dinos this past year after signing a million dollar contract, hitting .300 with 35 home runs and 111 RBIs in 115 games.
Andy Burns, Third Baseman: Still just 27, the right-hander went hitless in seven plate appearances for the 2016 Toronto Blue Jays. With a regular big league job looking unlikely for 2017, he elected to take a $650,000, one-year deal with the Lotte Giants in 2017, which proved to be a shrewd decision. Appearing in 116 games, he hit .303 with 15 home runs and 57 RBIs; putting himself in a position to have potentially multiple options as he moves forward in his professional career.
Wilin Rosario, Catcher: The squat right-handed slugger hit .273 with 71 home runs in five seasons with the Colorado Rockies (2011-2015), but was a derailed by subpar defense—a must for any national League Catcher. His game has translated much better for the Hanwha Eagles, for whom he has been remarkably consistent the past two years. He hit .321 with 33 home runs and 120 RBIs in 127 games in 2016, and .339 with 37 home runs and 111 RBIs in 2017. Still just 29, he will be playing in Japan this season and could see himself back in the majors at some point because of his powerful bat.
Darin Ruf, Outfielder: Despite hitting 5 home runs in 286 games over five years with the Philadelphia Phillies, the right-handed slugger batted just .240 and whiffed in nearly a third of his at-bats. He immediately became a superstar upon joining the Samsung Lions in 2017, hitting .315 with 38 home runs and 124 RBIs in 134 games. He will be rejoining the team for the 2018 season, earning an impressive $1.5 million.
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