June 23 (Reuters) – Five baseball players to watch out for at the Tokyo Olympics:
KIM HYUN-SOO (SOUTH KOREA)
The 33-year-old Kim struggled to produce offensively after moving to Major League Baseball (MLB) for two seasons in Baltimore and Philadelphia. But on returning to the Korean league with the LG Twins over the last four years, the outfielder regained his form, including 33 runs batted in over 35 games to start this year. Kim delivered key hits when Korea won gold in 2008, and was the Most Valuable Player at the 2015 world championships.
IAN KINSLER (ISRAEL)
The veteran second baseman, who has Jewish heritage and previously competed for Team USA, travelled to Israel to secure citizenship just before the COVID-19 pandemic began. He played on five MLB teams, including Texas and Detroit, over a 14-season career, winning a World Series, two Gold Gloves and four All-Star selections. The accolades make Kinsler, 38, among the highest-profile Western players in Tokyo.
“Having that guy in the clubhouse is a huge addition in addition to his on-field abilities,” Israel manager Eric Holtz told Reuters.
HAYATO SAKAMOTO (JAPAN)
The national Samurai Japan team are stacked with Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) players, and the Yomiuri Giants shortstop is among the stars. He took home NPB’s Central League Most Valuable Player award in 2019 after slugging 40 home runs. Sakamoto, 32, added 19 last year while driving in 65 runs. He injured his hand in May and experienced a mild COVID-19 infection last year.
SEIYKA SUZUKI (JAPAN)
The outfielder led the offense for Samurai Japan when they won gold at the world championships in 2019. His contributions included scoring nine times and driving in 13. Attention will be high on Suzuki, 26, who plays for NPB’s Hiroshima Toyo Carp, because he is candidate to move to MLB next season.
ATURO REYES (MEXICO)
Three big starts from the right-handed pitcher powered Mexico to an Olympic spot during a qualifier in 2019. Now he will be out to prove it was not a fluke. The U.S.-born 29-year-old showed his brilliance over seven minor league seasons, including 104 strikeouts in 2014, but he has not yet shown enough to get a crack at MLB.