Korean right-hander Suk-min Yoon threw a bullpen session on Friday in front of scouts from the Orioles and Giants, according to a report from Korean news service SBS translated by Dan Kurtz of MyKBO.net.
The interest in Yoon doesn’t come as a surprise; last week, it was reported that four clubs had already made contract offers to the 27-year-old, who is represented by mega-agent Scott Boras.
The last player to make the jump from the Korea Baseball Organization to Major League Baseball was Dodgers’ left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu, who finished fourth in the National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2013 after posting a 3.00 ERA and 119 ERA+ in 192 innings spanning 30 starts.
So Yoon should be expected to make a Ryu-like impact next season, right?
Not so fast.
Yoon first broke into the KBO as an 18-year-old in 2005, spending the first chunk of his professional career alternating between the Kia Tigers’ starting rotation and bullpen.
|Suk-min Yoon Career KBO Statistics|
In 2011 the right-hander was transitioned into the team’s starting rotation full time and ultimately turned in a breakout performance, registering a 2.45 ERA with a career-best 9.30 K/9 rate in 172.1 innings. Yoon’s overwhelming success in the role earned him league MVP honors, also putting him on the map as a legitimate major league prospect.
Yoon’s breakout performance carried over into the 2012 season, as he posted a 3.12 ERA, 8.1 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 in 153 innings. However, the right-hander took a step back the following year, as a shoulder injury—which you’ll read more about in a few minutes—forced him to the bullpen for the second half of the season.
In spite of his background as a highly accomplished KBO hurler, there is less scouting information available on Yoon than there was on Ryu or even Masahiro Tanaka prior to their respective signings.
However, according to Steve Spya of Amazin’ Avenue, here's what is known about 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.
Based on the above video, Yoon doesn’t feature a devastating splitter like Tanaka or a tantalizing breaking ball(s) like Yu Darvish. However, as is the case with most Korean and Japanese pitchers, everything he throws has late movement, which should aid Yoon’s effectiveness as he transitions into Major League Baseball.
If Yoon is able to make a smooth transition and hold his own in the major leagues, then it’s reasonable to think that the right-hander can serve as a No. 4 or 5 starter on a first-division team.
Though he’s remained healthy for the majority of his professional career in the KBO, Yoon dealt with a shoulder injury in 2013 that limited him to 11 starts (4.16 ERA) and prompted a move to the bullpen for the final months of the season.
As a starter, Yoon’s high-water mark for innings pitched stands is 172.1, which he achieved during his breakout 2011 campaign as a full-time starter.
In theory, the injury could almost make him more appealing to major league teams; the hope is that his recent limited workload might have reduced the mileage on his arm, therefore implying that he’ll have more to offer in the major leagues.
Yet at the same time, any team that signs Yoon will likely do so with the intention of using him as a starter. So don’t expect a team to take a flier on the right-hander without a thorough evaluation of his medical history.
Why He Won’t Be the Next Hyun-Jin Ryu
Prior to signing with the Dodgers, Hyun-Jin Ryu had been lauded for his advanced control, which ultimately translated to a 3.14 strikeout-to-walk rate during his rookie season in 2013.
During Yoon’s nine-year career in the KBO, he posted a strikeout-to-walk rate of 2.75, which offers hope that the right-hander’s strike-throwing tendencies will carry over to his probable career in the major leagues.
However, that’s merely an assumption.
The reality is that Yoon never achieved the year-in, year-out success of Ryu, though that shouldn’t detract from his overall string of accomplishments in the KBO.
Plus, given his recent shoulder injury and extensive experience as a reliever in the KBO, Yoon is anything but a lock to remain in a starting rotation upon joining a major league organization.
Still, in spite of the injury-related concerns and the fact that he’s represented by Scott Boras, there are several teams that have expressed interest in acquiring Yoon’s services:
When he does sign with a team, Yoon will probably receive a contract for two or three years worth roughly $10 million—which speaks to his perceived future value when compared to the six-year, $36 million contract offered to Ryu prior to the 2013 season. And if a team views him strictly as a reliever, then expect Yoon to receive a less flattering contract.