Orioles' international movement turns to top-ranked Korean high school pitcher

January 23, 2012|By Eduardo A. Encina | The Baltimore Sun

Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette has said one of his chief goals in turning the franchise around is tapping the international market, and the Orioles have already made their mark there this offseason in signing pitchers Wei-Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada.

The success of the Orioles’ latest acquisition won’t be known for a few years, but it showed the organization’s willingness to make a serious effort in scouting Korea, as Duquette has promised.

The organization has signed 17-year-old Kim Sung-min, South Korea’s top left-handed high school pitching prospect, a team source said. A native of Daegu, Kim pitched for his country’s equivilent of its junior national team.

Kim -- who won’t turn 18 until April -- is a project, but the organization feels he has the tools to make it to the majors. He’s 5 feet 10, 180 pounds, but projects to be about 6-1, 195 pounds when he’s fully grown.

His fastball tops off at 90 but usually hits the high 80s. His 12-to-6 curveball is well above average -- especially for his age -- as is his change up. The team expects him to progress with age.

Kim is slated to come to Los Angeles to train at the MLB academy there for four to six weeks before arriving in Sarasota, Fla., for minor league spring training.

His first two years in the states will be huge, especially in terms of how he adjusts to a new game and environment, but there's talk that if all goes well, he could reach the majors by the age of 21. That’s not bad.

The Orioles also signed journeyman Korean pitcher Eun Chul Choi to a minor league contract this month. The team was also close to signing veteran reliever Chong Tae-Hyon, but he decided to remain in Korea.

While the signing of Kim appears to be the Orioles’ first high-profile signing of a teenage Korean pitcher, don’t expect it to be the last. The move puts the organization on the radar in Korea and makes it known it is willing to tap into young arms in the country. The O’s are making their name known there very quickly.

At Saturday’s Orioles FanFest, Duquette -- who made huge strides in Korea as the Boston Red Sox’s GM -- made mention that the Orioles has signed the best high school pitcher in Korea last week. That night, KBO.net reported that the Orioles indeed had signed Kim.

Last week, the Orioles signed New Zealand softball phenom Pita Rona, also 17. Rona, who is probably more of a long-term project than Kim, will first play at the MLB developmental academy in Australia instead of immediately coming to the states.

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