Back during the early-ish days of the COVID-19 pandemic, sports came to a halt — at least in the United States. A semi-bright light came on the horizon when ESPN gained the rights to broadcast the KBO of South Korea.
In the early hours of May 5th, night owls got to enjoy live baseball when the KBO season opened with the NC Dinos taking on the Samsung Lions, live on ESPN. With no score in the fourth inning, Na Sung-Bum stepped to the plate and homered to give the Dinos a 1-0 lead in an eventual 4-0 win.
Na Sung-bum goes YARD! #Dinos pic.twitter.com/OA9Z9fH3Zc— Noah Osen (7-7) (@NoahOsen) May 5, 2020
The Dinos would go on to become the story of the KBO season, finishing in first in the regular season by 4.5 games. They then went on to defeat the Doosan Bears in six games in the Korean Series, and were given a giant sword.
Na was one of the bright lights for the Dinos. After missing most of the 2019 season due to injury, he bounced back in a big way in 2020. He hit .324/.390/.596 with 34 home runs, good for third in the KBO. Na had at least one hit in all four of the Dinos’ wins in the Korean Series, including a 4-for-4 performance in Game 1.
Now, Na is going to be posted and may come over to MLB. Could he be someone that the Yankees take a look at?
For pretty much his entire KBO career, Na has raked. Other than his rookie season, he has always posted a wRC+ of at least 120. Na has also hit at least 22 dingers in every campaign other than his rookie year and injury-shortened 2019, peaking at 34 this past season.
As far as the defensive side of things go, Na came up as a center fielder but started to play more right field around 2015, and transitioned there fully in 2020 after the injury. His range in the outfield on defense reportedly isn’t the best, likely limiting him to corner outfield spots. However, Na pitched in his college days and has an excellent arm, which some say is his best tool in his arsenal.
Despite all those positives, it’s unlikely that Na would come over an be a full-time starter in MLB. He’s 31. As a FanGraphs scouting report points out, no player that age has come over from the KBO and turned into a super productive MLB hitter. There are legitimate questions about how he would fare against MLB-level velocity. Also, he strikes out a lot.
On the other hand, the scouting report also thinks he wouldn’t get much more than a six-figure deal. Maybe if that’s all he gets, he just decides to stay in the place where he’s already successful, but if not, that’s nothing.
If Na is going to be just a bench/platoon piece, then there is a theoretical place for him on the 2021 Yankees. They already have three starter-level players in Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, and Clint Frazier. Mike Tauchman appeared to have a lock on a fourth outfielder spot after 2019, but he had a big drop off in 2020. It could be worth a shot to bring Na over as a fourth/fifth outfielder and see if he can replicate his offensive success at all. If not, you have someone that’s probably at least a solid defensive option.
If the Yankees do pick him up, they should ask if he can bring that sword.