By Troy Stangarone
While most players from South Korea come to the majors after having first played professionally in South Korea or Japan, some such as Choo Shin-soo of the Texas Rangers come to the United States as amateur free agents. With minor league baseball’s regular season concluded, here is a look at some of the South Korean players in Minor League Baseball who might be playing in the majors in the years ahead including two pitching prospects that made strong impressions in their fist year in the United States.
Park Hoy-jun, SS, New York Yankees
Park is the most advanced of the South Koreans playing in the minor leagues. He has good contact skills and is a plus runner, but doesn’t hit for much power and may not have the arm to stay at shortstop. He finished the year hitting .273 with 3 home runs and 16 stolen bases for the Yankees AA team the Trenton Thunder.
Bae Ji-Hwan, SS/2B, Pittsburgh Pirates
Bae is ranked as the 8th best prospect in the Pirates minor league system by MLB Pipeline and the 16th by Fangraphs, two leading sites for minor league prospects. Similar to Park, Bae has good contact skills, but likely more speed on the base paths. A younger prospect, he is also seen as more likely to stick at shortstop and has more potential to grow into some power despite having no home runs this year. He finished the year hitting .319 with 31 stolen bases for the Pirates Class A team the Greensboro Grasshoppers.
Choi Hyun-il, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
A potential #1 overall pick for the Korean Baseball Associations’ amateur draft, Choi instead chose to sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers last winter for $300,000. He possess a mid-90s fastball and a good changeup. Though, he will need to develop a third pitch to succeed long-term as a starter. Pitching for the Dodgers Arizona rookie league team, Choi is off to a good start to his professional career as he finished his first season in the United States with a 2.63 earned run average, while showing good command of his pitches averaging nearly 10 strikeouts a game and only 1.52 walks per start.
Jin Woo-young, RHP, Kansas City Royals
Another hard throwing right handed pitcher out of South Korea, Jin was reportedly able to throw 95 mph at 16 years old and is the 36th best prospect for the Royals according to Fangraphs. Similar to Choi he has a good changeup, but needs to develop a third pitch if he is going to succeed as a starter going up the minor league ladder. Signed last year by the Royals, Jin pitched his first season in the Arizona rookie league with a 2.35 earned run average while striking out over 10.5 hitters per game, but also giving out over 2.5 walks per game.
Troy Stangarone is the Senior Director and a Fellow at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.
Photo from Amy Meredith’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.