‘Futures North’s only regulation inning’ Bears’ next-generation lefty

Doosan Bears “next-generation left-hander” Lee Won-jae has won the Futures League North ERA award. He was the only pitcher in the Futures League North to pitch in regulation innings, making him a virtual lone candidate. Lee vowed to reach his full potential in 2024 and return to the awards ceremony a year later as a first-team titleholder.

In 2023, Lee appeared in 22 games (83 innings) in the Futures League, posting a 6-7 record with one save, a 3.80 ERA, 74 strikeouts and 35 walks. He was the only pitcher in the Futures League North to complete a full game. Not surprisingly, Lee finished first in ERA and won the Futures League title.

Lee was drafted by Doosan with the 19th overall pick in the second round in 2022. He was given the opportunity to make a surprise first-team start at the beginning of the 2023 season. Lee took the mound against the Gochuk Kiwoom Heroes on May 17, but was pulled early after giving up three runs on three hits and three walks in one inning. Lee hasn’t made a first-team appearance since.

At the 2023 KBO Awards ceremony on November 27, Lee Won-jae said, “I was disappointed to be on the mound for the first team when I was having a bad start to the season. When I had a chance to pitch in the second half, it was raining (laughs). So I was worried about my performance in the Futures League, but I got better towards the end. It meant a lot to me that I was able to get through the regulation innings because other pitchers were not able to get through them. It was my first proper award while playing baseball in my own way,” he said.

Lee Won-jae recently participated in the Icheon Wrap-Up Camp and made headlines for taking care of rookie pitcher Kim Taek-yeon as a catching partner.

“I like to hang out with the juniors, so I tried to take care of (Kim) Taekyeon, too, because even a junior can miss something (laughs). Even yesterday, I called her and encouraged her to have a good rookie camp. She was really nice to me. Samsung’s (Lee) Ho-sung, who is a schoolmate of Taek-yeon’s (Incheon High School), contacted me and said, ‘He looks like an idiot, but he’s a good friend, so take care of him,’” he smiled.

Doosan manager Lee Seung-yeop said he wants Lee to prepare for the 2024 season as a left-handed starter. With veteran left-hander Jang Won-jun retiring, there’s a good chance Lee will be given a chance to start.

Lee Won-jae said, “Ideally, I’d like to pitch as a starter, but even if I’m a bullpen pitcher, I’d like to pitch on the first team mound. (Choi) Seung-woo is doing well behind my brother, so I want to surpass him (laughs). Of course, the first thing is to get the first win in the first team. I want to work my way up the ladder, and in a year’s time, I hope to receive the first team title holder award at the awards ceremony.”

Finally, Lee Won-jae said, “Last year, I couldn’t show my face to Doosan fans often. This year, I went to the first team once, and I was grateful to feel more fans supporting me in Jamsil and Icheon. Next year, I want to greet the fans at Jamsil Stadium more often, and I will prepare well during the offseason so that I can survive the first team spring training and exhibition games until the opening roster.”

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