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Two former Rays take center stage in the KBO

RHP Ricardo Pinto and INF Taylor Motter are starters in the KBO this year.

Taylor Motter celebrating in the dugout with Rays teammates
Jun 27, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Taylor Motter (38) is congratulated in the dugout after he scored during the first inning against the Boston Red Sox at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

We have live baseball on our televisions once again! The Korean Baseball Organization got their 2020 season underway on Tuesday and ESPN is broadcasting six games a week.

There are plenty of former Major League players rostered in the KBO, including a Tampa native Preston Tucker who is with the Kia Tigers. Tucker graduated from Plant High School in Tampa, and made his Major League debut with the Astros in 2015.

This will be his second season in the KBO after the Kia Tigers signed him last May to replace Jeremy Hazelbaker, another foreign player. After departing with a struggling Hazelbaker, Tucker was an immediate upgrade, and went on to have a great first season in the KBO. In 399 plate appearances Tucker put together a slash line of .311/.381/.479 while hitting 9 home runs and driving in 50.

There are also some former Rays in action, including RHP Ricardo Pinto.

In 2019, Pinto pitched 104.2 innings for the Durham Bulls as a headliner (the term for pitchers following an opener) and had a 4.13 ERA. After helping lead the Bulls to the International League playoffs throughout the regular season, Pinto got a chance to pitch for a big league club for the second time in his career when the Rays called him up on August 30th. He appeared in two games, both against the Indians and gave up 4 earned runs over 2.1 IP.

That would spell the end of Pinto’s time in the Rays organization, and his last baseball action before signing with the SK Wyverns, joining Jamie Romak and Nick Kingham as the club’s third foreign player.

MLB: Spring Training-Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays
Ricardo Pinto
Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Although Pinto’s time in the big leagues was short and unceremonious, he is off to a great start in 2020. Pinto got the start in the Wyverns second game of the year against the Hanwha Eagles, and took a no-hitter into the 6th inning. He was pulled in the 7th after throwing 94 pitches, but ended the day allowing just 1 earned run on 3 hits. The Wyverns went on to win the game 5-2.

Another former Rays call up, Taylor Motter, is also starting his first season in the KBO. Motter signed with the Kiwoom Heroes back in December 2019.

Motter might be a slightly more recognizable name for Rays fans, as the infielder made 93 plate appearances for the Rays in 2016, batting for a poor OPS of .590. After the 2016 season concluded, Motter was dealt to the Seattle Mariners alongside Richie Shaffer in exchange for Andrew Kittredge, Dalton Kelly, and Dylan Thompson. He continued to bounce around the U.S. from there, making appearances at the Major League level for both the Mariners and the Twins, but ultimately decided to head to the KBO this past winter.

In his debut Monday, Motter started at third base, went 1-4 and scored a run in the Heroes 11-2 victory over the Kia Tigers. The Heroes took down the Tigers again on Tuesday by a score of 3-1, but Motter went 0-4 in the victory.

Other Rays of note in the KBO:

  • Former Rays catcher Hank Conger was hired as the catching coach of the Lotte Giants this past offseason.
  • 3-time All Star Julio Franco, who recorded just one at bat with the Rays in 1999, is also a member of the Lotte Giants staff as the hitting coach.
  • Former Rays minor league infielder Hak-Ju Lee is in his second season with the Samsung Lions. (He was part of the package the Rays got for RHP Matt Garza, which included RHP Chris Archer)