Sung-Bum Na, a six-time All-Star outfielder and designated hitter in KBO baseball, was posted by the NC Dinos on December 9th, 2020. The 31-year-old made his debut in the KBO League in 2013 and has been a perennial MVP candidate since his breakout 2014 season. In eight seasons of KBO baseball, Na slashed .317/.384/.542 with a .926 OPS and 179 HRs.
In 2020, the outfielder helped his team, the NC Dinos, to winning the KBO championship, following an 83-55-6 regular season.
Sung-Bum Na’s KBO Baseball Career
The 12th pick of the 2013 KBO Draft by the NC Dinos, Sung-bum Na has been one of the KBO baseball league’s biggest stars since his debut. He was drafted as a pitcher but the Dinos used him as an outfielder due to his power bat. While Na does slug a lot of home runs, his strikeout rate and limited walk rate is concerning.
Na would’ve been a much more appealing target prior to a knee injury that derailed his 2019 season. He was expected to make the transition from KBO baseball to Major League Baseball last offseason, but he decided to play another year in Korea. This season, he played 130 games and had a 155 wRC+, 34 HRs, and 115 RBI.
Na’s .395 BABIP is concerning, and he has shifted to a corner outfielder since his injury. In 2020, his stolen base numbers were also down. His FanGraphs scouting grades give him a 40 hit, 55 game power, and 30 fielding with a 40 future value. Sung-bum Na’s MLB destinations could include those that miss out on top-of-the-market outfielders like George Springer, Michael Brantley, and Marcell Ozuna.
The left-handed hitter compares to Shogo Akiyama, who signed with the Reds last offseason out of the NPB. Akiyama struggled to adjust to MLB pitching in 2020, and Na shouldn’t be expected to become a great MLB player in his first season after leaving the KBO league.
KBO Baseball Stars in MLB
Some MLB players who formerly played KBO baseball include Hyun-Jin Ryu, Shin-Soo Choo, and Ji-Man Choi, who have all made significant impacts at the MLB level. Na isn’t the most coveted KBO baseball free agent, but the outfielder could make an impact in the MLB in 2021.
Recently, 25-year-old shortstop Ha-Seong Kim made the move to the states by signing with the San Diego Padres. Other MLB players who played in the KBO include Eric Thames and Josh Lindblom, two KBO baseball MVPs who have had different levels of success since their time overseas.
It’s tough to project the level that Na will play at once he makes the transition to Major League Baseball, but players like Ryu, Kwang-Hyun Kim, and Seung-Hwan Oh have all been productive MLB players. There is less of a history of position players making the transition, but Choi, Choo, Thames, and Hee-Seop Choi have been solid hitters at the major league level.
Sung-Bum Na MLB Destination: Cleveland Indians
The Indians have been actively cutting payroll this offseason, but they still have one of the top rotations in the league, even after trading Mike Clevinger. Their offense was one of the worst in 2020, despite MVP candidate Jose Ramirez leading the league in WAR. Their outfielders were among the league’s worst and they likely won’t offer a contract to Springer, Brantley, or any other expensive options in free agency.
This opens the door for cheaper options like Na, who will likely sign a short-term contract in the ballpark of $3-5M per year. The Indians’ outfield was one of the worst in the league during the 2020 season ranked 29th in wRC+ and 28th in WAR. They got Josh Naylor in the Clevinger trade, but with a Lindor trade imminent, the Indians are going to be in dire need of a power bat in the middle of the lineup.
Sung-Bum Na MLB Destination: Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto is one of the major players in this year’s free-agent market, and they are one of two presumed finalists for Astros star slugger George Springer. The Blue Jays will probably look for a high-end free agent but Na could be a good back-up plan or depth piece. Like the Mets, the Blue Jays have been involved in rumors for countless free agents, especially Springer, LeMahieu, and Bauer.
The Blue Jays could look to improve their rotation if they miss out on Springer, and taking the budget option in Na would give them the financial flexibility to do so. Joining an outfield that already includes Teoscar Hernandez, Randal Grichuk and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. would likely mean he wouldn’t be an everyday starter, but it would give him the opportunity to join a young, improving team.
Sung-bum Na MLB Destination: Houston Astros
The Astros seem like the perfect fit for the Korean slugger. George Springer and Michael Brantley are free agents and Springer likely won’t return. Kyle Tucker is the only sure-fire starter in their outfield entering next season. The former KBO baseball star could be their starting right fielder to enter the season, and they could start Myles Straw or another free agent, possibly Jackie Bradley Jr., in center.
Houston made the ALCS in 2020 but Springer is their second-best player and would be very tough to replace. Obviously, Na wouldn’t be able to single-handedly replace the production of Springer or Brantley, but the Astros should look at the 31-year-old slugger as a budget option to replace their star outfielders.
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