The regular season for the Korea Baseball Organization, the highest level of baseball in South Korea, is in full swing, making the KBO one of the first major professional sports leagues to return to action during the coronavirus pandemic.
For those just getting familiar with the Korean baseball league, it’s action-packed baseball filled with home runs, bat flips (lots and lots of bat flips), former MLB players and Korean-born stars who could follow the path of Hyun-Jin Ryu and Ji-Man Choi from the KBO to major league stardom.
You can watch the action with six regular-season English-language broadcast games per week, airing primarily on ESPN2 at 5:30 a.m. ET Tuesdays through Fridays, 4 a.m. ET on Saturdays and 1 a.m. ET on Sundays.
KBO on ESPN broadcast schedule
(All times ET; in addition to the game replays listed, all KBO League games on ESPN2 will also re-air leading directly into the next live game telecast.)
Friday, May 15
5:30 a.m.: ESPN2 — Doosan Bears vs. KIA Tigers (live)
2 p.m.: ESPN2 — Doosan Bears vs. KIA Tigers (rebroadcast)
Saturday, May 16
4 a.m.: ESPN — Doosan Bears vs. KIA Tigers (live)
Sunday, May 17
1 a.m.: ESPN — Kiwoom Heroes vs. LG Twins (live)
Tuesday, May 19
5:30 a.m.: ESPN2 — NC Dinos vs. Doosan Bears (live)
2 p.m.: ESPN2 — NC Dinos vs. Doosan Bears (rebroadcast)
Wednesday, May 20
5:30 a.m.: ESPN2 — LG Twins vs. Samsung Lions (live)
2 p.m.: ESPN2 — LG Twins vs. Samsung Lions (rebroadcast)
Thursday, May 21
5:30 a.m.: ESPN2 — NC Dinos vs. Doosan Bears (live)
1 p.m.: ESPN2 — NC Dinos vs. Doosan Bears (rebroadcast)
Friday, May 22
5:30 a.m.: ESPN2 — KT Wiz vs. LG Twins (live)
2 p.m.: ESPN2 — KT Wiz vs. LG Twins (rebroadcast)
Saturday, May 23
4 a.m.: ESPN — Doosan Bears vs. Samsung Lions (live)
Sunday, May 24
1 a.m.: ESPN — Hanwha Eagles vs. NC Dinos (live)
KBO highlights — get ready for some bat flips!
LG Twins’ Jung Ju-hyeon flips his bat toward third base as he smashes a home run against SK Wyverns in the KBO.
NC Dino’s Park Sok-min holds his pose and watches the ball sail out of the park vs. KT Wiz.
2018’s KBO rookie of the year Baek-ho Kang hammers a solo home run to put the KT Wiz ahead 4-3 in their game against the NC Dinos.
Kia Tigers’ Choi Hyung-woo shows great defensive ability at the wall against the Samsung Lions in the KBO.
Kia Tigers’ Park Chan-ho covers a lot of ground to make a brilliant catch against the Samsung Lions in the KBO.
ESPN’s Week 1 KBO Power Rankings
1. Kiwoom Heroes: 5-1 (Last week: 1) — Sang Woo Cho has been the anchor for the busy Kiwoom bullpen, going 3-for-3 in save chances.
2. Doosan Bears: 3-2 (3) — Jose Fernandez of Cuba, who hit .344 for Doosan last year, leads the KBO with a .591 average (13-for-22).
3. LG Twins: 2-3 (2) — The Twins rallied from a 6-0 first-inning deficit Sunday to hand the NC Dinos their first loss, 10-7.
4. NC Dinos: 4-1 (6) — The Dinos broke out of the gate 4-0, getting solid starts from former big leaguer Drew Rucinski and Chang Mo Koo, who combined to throw 12 shutout innings.
5. Lotte Giants: 5-0 (8) — A league-best 3.13 team ERA led to a big start for the Giants, who finished last in 2019.
6. SK Wyverns: 1-4 (4) — SK has scored a league-low 17 runs despite Dong Min Han’s league-high .944 slugging percentage.
7. KT Wiz: 1-4 (5) — The young Wiz pitching staff is off to a slow start, with a 7.19 team ERA.
8. Samsung Lions: 2-4 (7) — The Lions, who are hitting just .199 as a team, scored more than half of their 27 total runs in a 14-2 win over Kia.
9. Kia Tigers: 2-4 (9) — The Tigers have the league’s worst run differential (-15), but they also have Week 1’s top hitter, Preston Tucker (.476, 3 HRs, 11 RBIs). Tucker played three MLB seasons with the Braves, Reds and Astros.
10. Hanwha Eagles: 2-4 (10) — Hanwha looks to bounce back from a three-game weekend sweep against the Giants.
(Selected by Joon Lee, Alden Gonzalez and Dan Mullen)
KBO players you need to know
Eui-Ji Yang, C, NC Dinos. American pitcher Josh Lindblom was the 2019 MVP after leading the league in wins, strikeouts and innings and finishing second in ERA, but he signed a three-year, $9.125 contract with the Brewers to return to MLB. That leaves Yang as the top returning player in the MVP vote. The veteran catcher will turn 33 this month, but he hit .354/.438/.574, leading the KBO in all three categories while hitting 20 home runs in 118 games — with more walks than strikeouts. Last year was his first season with the Dinos after spending the first nine seasons of his career with the Doosan Bears.
Hyeon-Jong Yang, LHP, Kia Tigers. The league MVP in 2017, Yang finished third in the 2019 voting after going 16-8 and leading the league with a 2.29 ERA. The 32-year-old lefty fanned 163 in 184⅔ innings and allowed just six home runs. After control problems earlier in his career, he walked just 1.6 per nine innings last season, a career best.
Ha-Seong Kim, SS, Kiwoom Heroes. One of the league’s young stars, Kim hit .307/.389/.491, with 19 home runs, 38 doubles and 33 steals in 37 attempts. Now 24, Kim has been a regular since he was 19 and has been one of the league’s top all-around players. Even with a leaguewide drop in offense in 2019 after changes were made to the ball, Kim improved his OPS by 48 points, making it his best season yet.
Baek-Ho Kang, RF, KT Wiz. Just 20 years old, Kang hit .336/.416/.495 with 13 home runs in 438 at-bats as a teenager last season, although his power dropped from 29 home runs with the deadened ball. Still, his average went up 46 points, and he also showcased solid plate discipline for such a young player, making him the Juan Soto of the KBO, of sorts. Like Soto, Kang also is a sight to see at the plate, with a high leg kick even by Korean standards and some of the best bat flips in the league. He should be in the middle of the Korean lineup at the next World Baseball Classic.
Jeong Choi, 3B, SK Wyverns. One of the league’s great veteran players with 335 career home runs, Choi was a heralded high school pitcher and hitter before finally settling on hitting as a pro. He was a member of World Baseball Classic teams in 2009 and 2013 and led the KOB in home runs in 2016 and 2017. He is 33 but is coming off a season in which he hit .292/.399/.519 with 29 home runs, ranking tied for second in home runs and fourth in OPS.
Byung-Ho Park, 1B, Kiwoom Heroes. Park’s two-year stint with the Minnesota Twins didn’t go so well, as he hit .191 in 215 at-bats (although with 12 home runs) in 2016 and spent all of 2017 at Triple-A. He returned to Korea and remains the top slugger in the league, hitting 43 home runs in 2018 and leading the league with 33 in 2019.
Hyun-Soo Kim, LF/1B, LG Twins. You might remember Kim from his time with the Baltimore Orioles and Philadelphia Phillies in 2016 and 2017. He returned to Korea in 2018 and hit .362 with 20 home runs, but he fell off to .304 and 11 in 2019. He is 32 and one of the biggest names in the league, but he went from fifth in the league in OPS to 25th, so we’ll see if age is catching up to him.
Casey Kelly, RHP, LG Twins. A Red Sox first-round pick back in 2008, Kelly became a top prospect for the Padres. But he had Tommy John surgery in 2013 and bounced around the minors, with some spot appearances in the majors for the Padres, Atlanta Braves and San Francisco Giants, before heading to Korea for 2019. He went 14-12 with a 2.55 ERA for the Twins (although 19 unearned runs helped lower the ERA), striking out 126 in 180⅓ innings. Kelly throws a low 90s sinker that helps him get ground balls but doesn’t result in a high strikeout rate. That wasn’t enough to keep him in the majors, but it was effective enough in the KBO. Tyler Wilson, Kelly’s American teammate, also had a good season for the Twins, going 14-7 with a 2.92 ERA and similar peripherals to Kelly.
Jose Miguel Fernandez, 1B/DH, Doosan Bears. Fernandez had a cup of coffee with the Los Angeles Angels in 2018, but he signed with Doosan for 2019 and was one of the league’s best hitters, hitting .344/.409/.483 with 15 home runs while leading the league in hits. Fernandez played some second base and third base for the Angels, but the Cuban’s glove doesn’t really work in the infield except at first base, and he lacks the power to play there in the U.S. He spent most of his time at DH in 2019 for Doosan.
Jamie Romak, 1B, SK Wyverns. The Canada native got 39 plate appearances for the Braves and Arizona Diamondbacks in 2014 and 2015. Now he heads into his fourth season in the KBO as one of the top sluggers in the league. He hit .276/.370/.508 in 2019 with 29 home runs — after seasons of 31 and 43 homers. Romak brings a three true outcomes approach to the KBO: He ranked second (tied) in home runs, fifth in walks and second (tied) in strikeouts. — David Schoenfield