Jung Hoo Lee

Melvin would be ‘shocked' if Lee isn't Giants' everyday leadoff hitter

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Jung Hoo Lee walked up the ramp of a new deck at Scottsdale Stadium on Wednesday afternoon and immediately found himself surrounded by cameras and microphones. There were 15 members of the media at camp specifically for the new Giants outfielder, and Lee spent about 20 minutes smiling and casually providing lengthy answers that were quickly beamed back home.

Lee might be relatively unknown to MLB fans, but there was no doubt on the first day of Giants camp that the organization has a new star. The offseason's biggest addition already is wildly popular in South Korea, and Giants officials, coaches and players who have interacted with him in recent days believe it won't be long before San Francisco feels the same way. 

"There's a lot of excitement around him," manager Bob Melvin said. "He embraces it. We're embracing it. I've had a ton of high-profile Japanese players over the course of my career and I had Ha-Seong Kim in San Diego. To me, it's glaring how quickly it seems like (Lee) has fit in and how comfortable he has been.

"He's joking around with the guys. It usually takes a while to kind of feel your way around and fit in, but he has got the type of personality that makes it easy on you to have conversations with him. Everything has been great so far."

The first official full-squad workout of the spring is still several days away, but Lee arrived in Scottsdale early and took part in drills Wednesday with young prospects Luis Matos and Wade Meckler, along with veterans Austin Slater and Michael Conforto. For most of the group, there's some uncertainty about what 2024 will look like. 

Matos and Meckler are trying to earn consistent big-league roles. Slater is coming off elbow surgery, and Conforto is trying to reestablish himself as a middle-of-the-order force after picking up the option on his contract. Lee is the newcomer, but he already is locked into the most secure role. 

Melvin said he "would be shocked" if Lee isn't the leadoff hitter on Opening Day and added that the plan is for the left-handed hitter to bat first against both righties and lefties. 

Lee was happy to hear it, particularly because of what that would mean on March 28. The Giants open against the San Diego Padres and Kim, a close friend, and someone who has helped pave the way for Lee and Melvin to hit the ground running. 

"Kim talked to Melvin about me a lot, so that made it easier to connect," Lee said through interpreter Justin Han. 

While the opener should provide a historic moment for South Korean baseball fans, Lee's focus at the moment is on the action in Arizona. The transition from the KBO to MLB is difficult, and Lee talked Wednesday about the increased velocity and new pitch shapes he expects to see. He has been working closely with hitting coach Justin Viele to make slight adjustments to his swing and approach, and that will continue when Cactus League games begin.

Both Melvin and Lee said they expect the new center fielder to see plenty of action this spring. Melvin noted that the Giants will face their fellow NL West opponents a lot, which should help Lee prepare for the regular season. 

"I've never played in Major League Baseball so I need to adapt as soon as possible to help the team out," Lee said. "Playing in a lot of exhibition games is my goal."

The Giants open their exhibition season on February 24 at Scottsdale Stadium, and most of the South Korean reporters are planning to stick around through at least that game. The extra attention made for a crowded clubhouse on Wednesday morning, but the Giants are happy to have the added energy after a season that left much of the fan base looking elsewhere for entertainment.

"It's been fun to watch him do his thing. He's a very fun guy," pitcher Logan Webb said. "It seems like he's always in a good mood and always joking around. Just watching his batting practice, nobody is throwing real hard to him but every ball is a line drive or a barrel. That's cool to watch."

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