A few Texas Rangers fans have brought up the idea of another alternative starting pitcher to Masahiro Tanaka. I've already mentioned Ubaldo Jimenez as a possibility, although it's somewhat difficult to see the club signing him since he has a compensatory draft pick attached to him.
Let's go back over international waters and take a look at Korean-born starter Suk-Min Yoon. There has been no word concerning the Rangers' interest in Yoon, but he is no doubt one of the better pitching prospects outside of Tanaka.
Matt Sullivan over at MLB Daily Dish has much more detail on Yoon.
Yoon is on the small side, standing at an even six feet and weighing 180 pounds. He throws in the mid-90s, though, and complements his fastball with a hard, biting slider and a change-up that MLB scouts describe as above average. Though a starter, he has only thrown what we would consider an entire season's work (~175+ IP) once, in 2011. As best I can gather, the average starter in the KBO throws around 150 to 180 innings, making 25 to 30 starts, per season, often supplementing those starts with relief outings here and there.
Here are some of Yoon's highlights from the KBO.
As you can see there, Yoon doesn't have Tanaka's world-class, two-foot-breaking splitter, or an equally dazzling Yu Darvish slider and slow curve. Yoon's pitches seem to have a late, sharp break rather than an early, sweeping break. Late movement is tough to hit, no matter how you slice it.
He does appear to have the making of a James Shields changeup.
Sullivan has reason to believe that Yoon could follow in the footsteps of fellow Korean Hyun-Jin Ryu, who went 14-8 with a 3.00 ERA in 192 innings last season as the Los Angeles Dodgers' No. 3 starter.
Ryu's single greatest attribute in his rookie season was his control. He posted a 3.14 strikeout to walk ratio.
Sypa points out that Korean players have a history of succeeding in their home leagues but struggling when they jump up to the majors. Obviously, Ryu, at least in his first year with the Dodgers, and the newest Ranger Shin-Soo Choo, are two glaring exceptions.
As Sullivan and Sypa note, Yoon is a couple years older (27) than Tanaka. He has had a dramatically different role with his team, the Kia Tigers, in the Korean Baseball Organization. Over his nine-year career in Korea, he has moved back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen.
Sullivan says that this has saved a lot of mileage on his arm, compared to the remarkably heavy workloads of Tanaka and fellow Japanese star Yu Darvish before he signed with the Rangers.
Here are Yoon's career stats, courtesy of this report from Global Sporting Integration, with a hat tip to myKBO.net.
2005: 3-4, 4.29 ERA, 53 G, 84 IP, 49 K, 1.476 WHIP
2006: 5-6, 2.28 ERA, 63 G, 94.2 IP, 75 K, 1.141 WHIP
2007: 7-18, 3.78 ERA, 28 G, 162 IP, 104 K, 1.358 WHIP
2008: 14-5, 2.33 ERA, 24 G, 154.2 IP, 119 K, 1.054 WHIP
2009: 9-4, 3.46 ERA, 27 G, 119.2 IP, 117 K, 1.287 WHIP
2010: 6-3, 3.83 ERA, 23 G, 101 IP, 94 K, 1.297 WHIP
2011: 17-5, 2.45 ERA, 27 G, 172.2 IP, 178 K, 1.048 WHIP
2012: 9-8, 3.12 ERA, 28 G, 153 IP, 137 K, 1.000 WHIP
2013: 3-6, 4.00 ERA, 30 G, 87.2 IP, 76 K, 1.357 WHIP
Career: 73-59, 3.19 ERA, 303 G, 1129 IP, 949 K, 1.198 WHIP
2011 was Yoon's best year, and he was the MVP of the KBO that season. He then proceeded to hire Scott Boras as his agent.
Overall, Yoon has had a solid career in Korea, but he is obviously not on the same level as Tanaka. Those are nice numbers, but the biggest question surrounding Yoon is if he'll be able to hold his own in a major league rotation for any length of time. But because of that uncertainty, he could be available at a very affordable price.
Sypa projects that Yoon, even with Boras as his agent, would get a contract similar to the three-year, $10.7 million—with a $4.75 million option for a fourth year—that Wei-Yin Chen signed with the Baltimore Orioles in 2011. Considering he has been pitching in the AL East, Chen has done alright with the Orioles over two years for that contract. He has a career 19-18 record with a 4.04 ERA and a career opponents' batting average of .259.
So, Yoon seems like the cheapest rotation option available. According to these reports, Yoon is believed to be able to slide into a No. 4 or 5 rotation spot. No. 5 on a good team. But he has experience in the bullpen and could perhaps help out a major league team in that area.
Again, I'm not advocating for the Rangers to sign Yoon, just throwing out some additional potential options for rotation or pitching depth in general. He is one of those low-risk, at least medium-reward pitchers.
* All stats, unless otherwise noted, are courtesy of ESPN.com
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