More Top KBO Arms
With the Dodgers $26 million-plus winning posting bid for Korean ace Hyun-Jin Ryu (using the Western name order), new attention has been shined on the Korea Baseball Organization (“KBO”) as a future source for major league talent. I thought it would be fun to identify a few other pitching prospects from the KBO who might one day pitch in MLB.
1. Suk-Min Yoon. I’ve already written about Yoon here and here. He’s a right-handed pitcher who won the Pitcher’s Triple Crown (wins, ERA and Ks) in KBO in 2011. He also led the KBO with a 2.33 ERA in 2008. In 2012, his 3.12 ERA was 8th best in the KBO and his 137 Ks (in 153 IP) was 4th best.
Yoon doesn’t strike out hitters the way Ryu does, but he can definitely pitch. He has eight years of KBO experience, and he still only turns 27 next July 24th.
The player Yoon reminds me most of is Japan’s and the Mariners’ Hisashi Iwakuma. Like Iwakuma, Yoon is a bit inconsistent season to season, and neither pitcher has the kind of strike out totals to make a major league team stand up and take notice. However, both players really know how to pitch, and there’s something to be said for that.
If Ryu is reasonably successful in MLB and Yoon has a big year in KBO in 2013, there’s a good chance either that his team, the Kia Tigers, will post Yoon next off-season or that he’ll become a free agent (I’m not clear on the KBO’s free agency rules, although KBO players have signed to play in Japan’s NPB after nine or ten seasons) and seek to sign with an MLB team.
[Note that the links in this post are to KBO’s official website, which is in Korean, but the stats pretty much speak for themselves.]
2. Seung-Hwan Oh. Oh is the top relief pitcher in KBO by a fairly wide margin. After eight KBO seasons, he has a career ERA of 1.69, with a pitching line of 458.2 IP, 265 hits, 110 walks and 571 Ks. It’s hard to find anything not to like about that.
In fact, Oh appears to have had some arm problems in 2009 and 2010, and he had ERAs above 4.00 those years. For the other six years of his KBO career, Oh’s ERA was a combined 1.35.
Oh turned 30 last July 15th, so he’s not young. Of course, a lot of Japanese NPB relievers have come over to America over the age of 30 and had a lot of success, so I don’t see any reason why Oh couldn’t. In fact, he reminds me of Kyuji Fujikawa, the top NPB closer, who most anticipate will get a fat free agent contract this off-season and pitch well in MLB next year.
Oh’s 1.94 ERA in 2012 was high for him, but he also struck out 81 and allowed only 33 hits and 13 walks in 55.2 IP. Again, it’s hard to find fault in numbers like that.
3. Chang-Min Shin. As a 19 year old rookie reliever, Shin posted a 1.83 ERA with a pitching line of 39.1 IP, 26 hits and 17 walks allowed, and 41 Ks. He’s a long way from leaving Korea, but he’s definitely what you would call a prospect.
4. Yoon-gu Kang. At age 21 and in his first year as a starter, Kang struck out 127 batters in 125.2 IP. He’s extremely wild (he walked 74), but he already has substantial KBO experience, and he has the arm to develop into a fine pitcher a few years hence.
5. Sang-San Hong. At age 22, he was one of the top set-up men in KBO, posting a 1.93 ERA, recording 22 holds (3rd best in KBO) and a pitching line of 65.1 IP, 35 hits and 29 walks allowed, and 69 Ks.
6. Woo-ram Jung. One of the younger closers in KBO in 2012 at age 27 (Korean teams apparently prefer veteran closers), Jung posted a 2.20 ERA, saved 30 games (5th best) and posted a pitching line of 49 IP, 33 hits and nine walks allowed, and 55 strike outs.
Despite, his tender age, Jung is an eight year KBO veteran with a career KBO ERA of 2.80 and a pitching line of 498.1 IP, 371 hits and 204 walks allowed, and 445 Ks. However, Jung’s command appears to have improved dramatically the last two seasons.
One thing I noticed in reviewing the stats is that KBO teams appear to work their top set-up men much harder than their closers, with set-up men sometimes pitching twice as many innings in a season as closers. Jung pitched a lot of innings as the SK Wyverns’ top set-up man from 2008 through 2011 [see here for a discription of a Wyvern], which may mean arms problems in his future, although he sure didn’t show any ill effects in 2012.
If Jung can improve on his already outstanding 2011 and 2012 seasons in 2013, there’s a good chance he’ll draw major league interest next off-season. Otherwise, my guestimate is that he will sign with a Japanese NPB team a year or two from now.
7. Yong-chan Lee. At age 23, Lee posted a 3.00 ERA, seventh best in the KBO. He already appears to have at least four years of KBO service, although he still looks like a work in progress.
Lee started his career as a set-up man and has been a starter the last two seasons. He has struck out 212 batters in 291 IP over the last two years, while walking 123. Like I said, he’s a work in progress, but he’s young enough that if he can improve his command and strike out rate, he could become a pitcher of whom MLB would take notice.
8. Hee-soo Park. Park was KBO’s top set-up man in 2012, recording 34 holds and a miniscule 1.32 ERA. He struck out 93 batters in 82 innings of work, while allowing 52 hits and 27 walks. Park now has a career 1.97 KBO ERA with more strike outs than innings pitched.
The knock on Park is his age. He turns 30 next July 13th, and as of the end of the 2012 season appears to have less than three years of KBO service. The upshot is that he may well be 35 years old before his team, the SK Wyverns, posts him or he becomes a free agent.