The year didn’t go as planned, but the dream was made. Jae-gyun Hwang can always say he played Major League Baseball. After a year in which Hwang spent the majority of his time in Triple-A and fulfilled his dream in 18 games with the San Francisco Giants, Hwang is heading back to Korea where he has been a star in the Korean Baseball Organization. He elected free agency on Nov. 2.
“We are pursuing a contract in Korea for 2018,” Hwang’s agent Han Lee revealed to NBC Sports Bay Area.
Hwang took a risk. He was a star in the KBO for his success on the field and a star off it on YouTube for his eccentric bat flips.
The Giants signed Hwang in January to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training. He hit .333 with five home runs, but the Giants sent him to Triple-A with the Sacramento River Cats.
"Jae's first experience with MLB was both unforgettable and disappointing," Lee said. "Being in an unfamiliar environment, there were several challenges that Jae was unaccustomed to."
Success didn't follow Hwang to the majors in 2017. With the Giants, Hwang only hit .154 and knocked one ball over the wall. He also hit .285 for the River Cats and totaled another 10 home runs as one of the team's top hitters in 98 games. Before signing with San Francisco, Hwang was coming off a monster year in the KBO with the Lotte Giants. Over 127 games, he posted career highs with a .335 batting average, .394 on-base percentage, .570 slugging percentage, and 27 home runs.
"Ultimately as a player, Jae understands that it was up to him to perform. And because he was unable to do that (at least not to the level to convince the team to give him another look in September), he has no regrets," Lee said.
Hwang arrived in the majors on June 28. It was a huge event in his hometown Seoul, South Korea, with family, friends and fans waking up early in the morning to watch him take the field at AT&T Park. And Hwang came with a bang.
The Giants were all tied up with the Rockies, 3-3, in the sixth inning as Hwang took a 2-0 fastball and blasted it over the left field wall to give the Giants the lead for his first hit as a major leaguer. Drop the mic (bat).
The ball landed in the bleachers at 6:32 a.m. in Seoul.
"Being able to play in a big-league stadium, and hit a home run in his first game, is something that he will always remember," Lee said.
Along with the moment every ballplayer dreams of, Hwang will also always cherish the little moments. Lee says Hwang learned a lot from his teammates and coaches alike. Hwang is thankful for the opportunity and the warm welcome. One player in particular sticks out for Hwang in his experience with the Giants.
"He would like to thank the veteran guys for making him feel welcome in the clubhouse, especially Hunter Pence," Lee said.