By John Manuel
January 7, 2002
In 1999, the Mariners invited outfielder Ichiro Suzuki of Japan’s Orix Blue Wave to participate in spring training in Arizona with the club.
We all know how that dalliance turned out. Ichiro signed before the 2001 season, then led the Mariners to a record 116 victories and was named American League MVP.
Now the Cubs, who already have a strong foothold in Korea thanks to Pacific Rim scouting coordinator Leon Lee, look to be following the Mariners’ blueprint. Slugging first baseman Seung-Yeop Lee, who has hit a record 223 home runs in the Korea Baseball Organization, will work out with the Cubs at HoHoKam Park in Mesa, Ariz., from Feb. 24-March 7.
The invitation implies no commitment from either side for the future, but it gives the impression that if Lee, a lefthanded hitter, decides to come to America, it will be with the Cubs.
Lee, 25, was the MVP in Korea in 1997, ’99 and 2001. Last season he led the league with 39 homers, his fifth straight season with at least 30 homers. He hit 54 in ’99 en route to winning the KBO triple crown. However, Lee struggled in the 2000 Olympics with a severe ankle sprain. While Korea won the bronze medal, Lee hit just .179-1-10 in 28 at-bats.
The Cubs already have a slugging Korean first baseman in Hee-Seop Choi, the organization’s No. 3 prospect. A right hand injury limited Choi to 266 at-bats at Triple-A Iowa in 2001, when he hit .229-13-45.
The Cubs also are high on 18-year-old righthander Jae-Kuk Ryu, their No. 12 prospect, and catcher Yoon-Min Kweon, who hit .270-6-51 in 326 at-bats for Class A Lansing. Choi and Kweon were signed in 1999, while Ryu signed in 2001.