With the departure of their longtime catcher, Sang-ho, and the obvious aging of his successor, Lee Jae-won, SSG found themselves shooting themselves in the foot. They tried to deal with it by trading Lee Heung-ryun, but it wasn’t a long-term solution; they needed a new master of ceremonies to take charge of the team’s future.
After Lee, the team drafted several catchers, but their development wasn’t promising. Kim Min-sik left in a trade, and the highly anticipated Lee Hyun-seok was slow to develop. This realization led to SSG’s plan for the 2021 rookie draft. They needed a big catcher to lead the future. That’s why they invested in Cho Hyung-woo, 21, of Gwangju Il-Go, who was the best catcher in high school, with the eighth overall pick in the second round of the 2021 draft.메이저놀이터
With his sturdy frame, Cho was a highly regarded large catcher. He was known for his athleticism in both the field and offense. At a time when other teams were focusing on collecting pitchers and good hitters in the top rounds, SSG’s selection of Cho was a big deal. Even during his first second-team camp in 2021, he was praised by the coaching staff, who said, “He has different qualities,” and “He can be a big catcher if he develops well.”
Catcher is the position that takes the longest to develop. There are only a few spots on the first team roster right now. Two spots, maybe three. You need skill, you need experience. It’s rare for a rookie catcher out of high school to get a spot on the first team right away. Cho Hyung-woo also had a cooling-off period. He had to work on his defense in particular. He didn’t make any first-team appearances in 2021, and last year he only played nine games for the first team. However, SSG coach Kim Won-hyung believes that Cho’s potential is very high.
Cho’s talent was first revealed in his shoulders. He was a natural powerhouse. He even made the Korean Series roster last year, albeit as the third catcher behind Lee Jae-won and Kim Min-sik. But the expectations were clear. There was work to be done. “It’s not just about giving a young catcher experience on the big stage,” Kim said at the time, explaining the reasoning behind the selection, “He has the strongest shoulders among our catchers.” This means that even though he won’t be used much on the big stage, he will be the most reliable stealer in an emergency.
However, Cho has had an up-and-down year with the first team. It’s not so much his stats. It’s his offensive numbers. Through 16 days and 58 games, he’s batting .196 with two home runs, 12 RBIs, and an OPS of .546. On defense, most pitchers say Reed has some work to do. However, the basics are there. His catching is good, which is the most basic trait of a catcher. His framing is good. His blocking is improving. There is no doubt that he will become a better catcher as he gains experience.
As he gained experience, his most prominent area was stealing bases. Cho Hyung-woo is an exceptional dog. According to Trackman, which provides tracking data for all nine KBO teams, the average throwing speed of catchers in the KBO this year is in the mid 120 kilometers per hour. But Cho’s is well over 130 kilometers. His fastball has been recorded at around 138 kilometers this year. Together with Son Seong-bin (Lotte), this is the highest mark of the season. His strong shoulders stand out from his big body.
His velocity and shoulder didn’t come into play right from the start. After spending most of the season in the first team, Cho was sent down to the second team on June 19. Before that, he hadn’t made a single catch in nine stolen base attempts. It was a disappointment for Cho, too. However, he said that changing his mindset helped. “I didn’t change anything in particular in terms of my throwing motion,” he said before the game against LG Jamsil on the 16th, “but I changed my mindset to pay attention to accuracy.”
Even the fastest pitch doesn’t mean much if it doesn’t land in the glove of a teammate covering second base. Cho’s pitches were often off-target. When he realized this, he began to focus on his throwing accuracy. His throwing speed was already good enough. He realized that he could catch runners if he could get to second base accurately, even if he had to relax his shoulders. This change in mindset worked synergistically with his stolen base training in the second team.
After returning to the first team on July 26, his stolen base rate took a surprisingly dramatic upward curve. In total, Cho made 14 stops in 33 situations for a 42.4 percent interception rate. In his last eight situations, he has been caught five times (62.5%). A save percentage above 30 percent is usually considered good, but anything above 40 percent puts a player at the top of the league. “I’ve been practicing with a different mindset, and I’m finding my groove with consistent (stealing) opportunities,” Cho said, adding, “I don’t want to be second to anyone with my throwing speed.”
Despite his size, he has a very good pop time. The average pop time for catchers in the KBO is about 2.1 seconds. If it comes in under 2 seconds, it’s excellent, and Cho is within that range on average. He’s gained more confidence as he’s been analyzing his data and seeing that his pop is not late. Now, other teams are starting to take notice of his shoulders. He doesn’t play easy. Although he is small, he is creating his own brand.
These abilities could become even more valuable in the future. The major leagues are full of fast players this year. Major League Baseball has limited the number of bunts to two to make the game more dynamic. The physical size of the bases has also increased. It’s a great environment for stealing bases. This has increased the value of runners who can run, as well as the value of catchers who can catch them.
The KBO is likely to follow the major league trend. It’s hard to escape the major leagues’ influence, even if it’s to a lesser degree and at a different time. That’s why it’s worth noting that Cho is now 21 years old and has already established himself in the stolen base category. Offensively, he’s starting to hit for power, which is a positive, as is his increasing rate of hard-hit balls. Through eight games in September, Cho has a .353 batting average and a .921 OPS, both of which are significantly higher than his season averages. SSG fans have begun to pay overpriced tickets in hopes of seeing Cho Hyung-woo.