The Swallows held a press conference today to formally announce the signing of 25 year-old Korean outfielder Jae-Hoon Ha. The team assigned Ha number 00, last worn by Keizo Kawashima, and it appears the team will refer to him by his given name Jae-Hoon. Ha was signed from the independent Shikoku Island League plus’ Tokushima Indigo Socks where he had been playing since this spring.
Ha was originally signed out of high school by the Cubs as an outfielder and got up to AAA in 2013-2014. The Cubs attempted to covert him into a pitcher in 2015 but he was granted his release after the season. Ha elected to continue his baseball career in the Japanese independent leagues as he is ineligible to be drafted by a KBO team in his native country until he is two years clear of his American service.
The Swallows have rated Ha’s speed and defensive skills quite highly. Despite leading the league in HRs (6) and being second in batting average (.364), the Swallows are being cautious in their praise of his offensive ability. As reference, Mitch Dening the Swallows’ independent league signing from last year but who was cut in the offseason, is leading the same league in batting average (.389) and tied for third in the homerun race (3).
The Japanese media have played up the possibility of Ha being a two-way player due to his recent season as a pitcher. Ha even pitched an inning of shutout ball for the Indigo Socks this season. But the Swallows’ interest in him looks to be strickly as an outfielder.
It’s not immediately clear what need or role Ha will fill for the Swallows. As an import, he is competing with Balentien, Ondrusek, Lueke, Davies, and Perez for playing time. Ha will likely only get top team playing time if Coco Balentien struggles or gets injured. It’s also not clear whether the team is willing/planning to hold onto him as a developmental project if he doesn’t get a chance to contribute to the top team.