Baseball is officially back… in Korea. Earlier this morning (1 AM ET), the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) kicked off their 2020 season with five games on the Opening Day docket. With the COVID-19 pandemic halting all sports in the United States since mid-March, the Korean Baseball Organization – much like
Baseball is officially back… in Korea. Earlier this morning (1 AM ET), the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) kicked off their 2020 season with five games on the Opening Day docket. With the COVID-19 pandemic halting all sports in the United States since mid-March, the Korean Baseball Organization – much like the Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) in Taiwan – are now playing games in front of no fans. ESPN has even signed on to air some of these games.
This season, there are four former Charlotte Knights playing in the KBO -- infielder Tyler Saladino, outfielder Preston Tucker, and right-handed pitchers Odrisamer Despaigne and Ricardo Pinto. All four of these players should do well with their new teams.
TYLER SALADINO - (2012, 2014-15, 2017)
SAMSUNG LIONS - SIGNED IN DECEMBER OF 2019
Infielder Tyler Saladino was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the seventh round of the 2010 MLB June Amateur Draft. Saladino spent parts of nine seasons in Chicago’s system – four at the major league level – and appeared in 155 games with the Knights over parts of four seasons. For his career with the Knights, Saladino hit .283 (159-for-562) with 159 hits, 81 runs scored, 26 doubles, six triples, 14 home runs, 82 RBIs, and 33 stolen bases.
A product of Oral Roberts University, Saladino was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers organization in April of 2018 and appeared in 80 games at the major league level over two seasons (2018-19). In December, Saladino signed as a free agent with the Samsung Lions and will continue his career in the KBO.
Last month, Saladino was named to the Charlotte Knights All-Decade Team (2010-19) as the team’s shortstop.
RICARDO PINTO - (2019)
SK WYVERNS - SIGNED IN NOVEMBER OF 2019
RHP Ricardo Pinto made his way to Uptown Charlotte in 2018 and appeared in 27 games with the Knights that season out of the club’s bullpen. He went 2-2 with one save and a 5.80 ERA in 54.1 innings pitched. Pinto, 26, spent the 2019 season in the Tampa Bay organization and made 24 appearances with the Durham Bulls and two appearances with the Rays. In parts of eight seasons at the minor league level, Pinto is 53-34 with two saves and a 3.68 ERA in 166 games (102 games started).
ODRISAMER DESPAIGNE - (2019)
KT WIZ - SIGNED IN NOVEMBER OF 2019
RHP Odrisamer Despaigne put together a solid season with the Charlotte Knights last year. Despaigne, a Cuban native, who defected in 2013, went 8-6 with a 3.47 ERA in 24 games (22 starts) with the Knights in 124.1 innings pitched overall last season. He finished second in the International League in ERA, third in strikeouts (124), eighth in innings pitched, and tied for fourth in WHIP (1.34). For his career, Despaigne has appeared in 109 games at the major league level over parts of six seasons (2014-19).
PRESTON TUCKER - (2019)
KIA TIGERS - SIGNED IN MAY OF 2019
Outfielder Preston Tucker began the 2019 season with the Charlotte Knights and hit .284 (23-for-81) with 14 runs scored, eight doubles, one home run, and 10 RBIs in 24 games with the team. On May 10, 2019, Tucker was granted his release by the Chicago White Sox so he could sign to play for the Kia Tigers in the KBO. The 29-year-old went on to hit an impressive .311 (111-for-357) with 50 runs scored, 33 doubles, nine home runs, and 50 RBIs in 95 games with the Tigers last season.
THE YANKEES OF THE KBO
Tucker is back in Korea this season with the Kia Tigers, who are considered the New York Yankees of the KBO. The Tigers have won the Korean Series 11 times since their first season of 1982. Already known to be the biggest television draw in the league, the Tigers have a noteworthy coaching staff this year. Matt Williams, a five-time National League All-Star, will lead the team as manager. Williams, who also won four Rawlings Gold Gloves over his 17-year career, also managed the Washington Nationals from 2014-15. He led the Nationals to a 96-66 record in 2014, the NL East crown, and was named NL Manager of the Year. Mark Weidemaier, who was part of the Washington Nationals coaching staff from 2014-15, is the team's bench coach. Another recognizable name on the coaching staff is Hee-Seop Choi, who is the team’s hitting coach. Choi played four seasons in the majors with the Cubs, Marlins, and Dodgers.
Over the years, the Charlotte Knights have welcomed numerous players to their roster who have played in foreign leagues the previous season. The team has also watched numerous players leave to sign with a foreign team in-season.
FROM KOREA TO CHARLOTTE TO JAPAN TO CHARLOTTE TO CHINA
RHP Donny Roach is one of the more recent examples of a player at the top of their game leaving in-season to pursue an opportunity overseas. First, Roach played for the KT Wiz of the KBO in 2017. A year later, the Las Vegas, NV native signed with the Chicago White Sox for the 2018 season and he went on to have a solid season with the Knights. Roach posted a 9-2 record with a 2.65 ERA in 16 games (15 starts) and was named to the IL All-Star team, however, he was granted his release to sign with a team in Japan. He finished the 2018 season with the Orix Buffaloes of Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB). Roach was back with the Knights in 2019 and appeared in 18 games with the team. This season, Roach is back overseas and pitching for the Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions of the CPBL.