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KT Wiz manager Cho eyes early playoff berth for expansion ball club
SUWON, South Korea, Aug. 5 (Yonhap) -- Cho Beom-hyun, freshly named the inaugural manager of the expansion baseball club KT Wiz, said Monday he will try to turn the team into a playoff contender by his third season.

   Cho held his first press conference as the Wiz's manager in Suwon, the club's home town in Gyeonggi Province, about 45 kilometers south of Seoul. The Wiz, owned by the country's top fixed-line and No. 2 mobile operator, announced their signing of Cho to a three-year deal worth 1.5 billion won (US$1.3 million), including a signing bonus, last Friday.

   The team will join the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) in 2015 after playing next season in the Futures League, the minor league for the KBO.

   The 52-year-old former catcher managed the Kia Tigers to the 2009 Korean Series title over the SK Wyverns. Then in 2010, he guided South Korea to the gold medal at the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games.

   In 2003, his first season as a KBO manager, Cho took the Wyverns to the Korean Series, where they lost to the Hyundai Unicorns in seven games. The overachieving Wyverns had the worst regular season record among the four playoff participants.

   Cho managed the Wyverns from 2003 to 2006, and then the Tigers from 2007 to 2011.

   In 2002, one season before Cho became their manager, the Wyverns finished sixth in the regular season, nine games out of the playoffs. In 2007, the Tigers finished dead last, and promoted Cho, then the battery coach, to be their new manager after the end of that season. Cho won the championship in his second season.

   Cho told reporters on Monday he will try to build on his managerial experience as he prepares to lead the expansion team.

   "I have previously taken on struggling ball clubs," he said. "I think such experience should help me with KT. When I first became the manager (of SK), I was young and wasn't really prepared. But I am more experienced now."

   The Wiz will play in the Futures League, the KBO's minor league, in 2014 and join the nine KBO teams in 2015. The Wiz signed Cho to a three-year contract, and Cho said he felt it would take about three years before he can successfully establish his brand of baseball within the Wiz.

   "While we play in the minor league next year, I will have to learn about our players and their abilities," he said. "Our first KBO season will be a period of adjustments. Then by our second season there, I hope to see our team compete for a playoff spot."

   In the KBO, the top four regular season clubs advance to the postseason, and finishing ahead of more established clubs will certainly be a daunting task for the Wiz, which will have to rely on young draftees out of high school or college and on castoffs from other teams to build their roster.

   Cho said he expects to have a handful of young players at the core of the team, and the key is to "establish a player development system with a mid- to long-term view.

   "I will also have to nurture players' professionalism," he said. "I expect us to go through plenty of trials and errors. I want to minimize those mistakes and build a feisty club."

   In 2012, he was the head of the player development committee in the KBO. Before the start of this season, Cho joined the Samsung Lions as the team's catcher instructor.

   The Lions have won the past two KBO championships, and Cho said he tried to figure out what made the team so strong.

   He wasn't just hoping to learn from the champs. Cho said he has been closely following the NC Dinos, an expansion team that joined the KBO in 2013. After opening their inaugural season with a seven-game losing streak and finishing April with a 4-17-1 record, the Dinos have since gone 30-33-2, thanks to excellent starting pitching and timely hitting. Ranked eighth among nine teams so far, they are 8.5 games ahead of the Hanwha Eagles, which are in the league cellar, and four games behind the Wyverns, who are in seventh.

   "NC is doing great, perhaps too well for an expansion team," Cho said with a laugh. "They made some good trades before the season, and they have an excellent balance between veterans and young players. I've been watching them play with a great interest."

   The KBO's annual rookie draft is scheduled for Aug. 26. Cho said he will sit down with his scouts, and the team will focus on pitching and defense at the draft table.

   Cho owns a managerial record of 524 wins, 498 losses and 22 ties. In his 11-year playing career with two different KBO clubs, Cho batted .201 with 12 home runs and 107 RBIs in 615 games.

   The Wiz received the KBO's approval as the league's 10th club in January this year. Their home town, Suwon, was once the home of the now-defunct Hyundai Unicorns from 2000 to 2007.

   The Unicorns won the Korean Series in 2000, 2003 and 2004, but they barely averaged 2,000 fans per home game in those championship seasons. They folded under financial hardships after the 2007 season and became the Nexen Heroes, which are now based in Seoul.

   jeeho@yna.co.kr
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