Why '24 opener could be extra special for Lee

February 17th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Maria Guardado's Giants Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Giants’ Opening Day matchup against the Padres on March 28 could end up being a historic day for Korean baseball.

Manager Bob Melvin has already said he “would be shocked” if new center fielder wasn’t his leadoff hitter for the regular-season opener at Petco Park. Lee’s counterpart, meanwhile, could be countryman Ha-Seong Kim, his close friend and former Kiwoom Heroes teammate.

“Opening Day, lead off, never even thought about it, never even dreamed about it,” Lee said Wednesday via interpreter Justin Han. “But now hearing it from Bob, it’s a lot for me. If that’s what it’s going to be, that’ll be my goal from now on.”

Lee, who signed a six-year, $113 million deal in December, reported to Giants camp in early February to begin preparing for his jump from the KBO to the Majors. He said he’s been working with hitting coach Justin Viele to make small mechanical tweaks that he hopes will help ease his transition this spring.

Melvin saw Kim make a successful crossover when he managed in San Diego, so he’s confident the 25-year-old Lee will be able to follow a similar path and develop into a key piece for the Giants. FanGraphs' projections are already forecasting an impressive rookie campaign for Lee, though Melvin knows there will inevitably be a bit of a learning curve for the former KBO MVP this year.

“I just want him to get out here and feel comfortable, acclimate and get to know his teammates,” Melvin said. “It’s going to be a process learning the league, which can be difficult. But if he feels comfortable and he’s happy and his teammates are supporting him and the coaches are supporting him, I think it’s going to be a quick transition for him.”

The Giants open their Cactus League slate on Feb. 24, and Lee said he hopes to see plenty of spring action to make sure he’s comfortable on Opening Day.

“I’ve never played in a Major League game, so that means that I need to adapt to the league as soon as possible to help the team out,” Lee said. “Playing a lot of exhibition games during Spring Training is my goal right now.”

Lee said he’s still working on his English, though the language barrier hasn’t stopped him from beginning to build relationships with his new teammates.

“It’s been fun to watch him do his thing,” right-hander Logan Webb said. “Very fun guy. It seems like he’s always in a good mood and always joking around. Just watching him, obviously it’s batting practice so no one is throwing real hard, but every ball is a line drive or a barrel. That’s cool to watch.”