Ball clubs clamber for teen starsTeenage ball players who rose to stardom in the 38th Presidential Cup National High School Baseball Competition are landing adult-sized signing bonuses by transferring to the pros.
Scouts from professional teams were eyeing prospective players from the tournament opening April 26 to its close on May 6. The Presidential Cup was the first major high school tournament of the year.
The first premium contract was signed by Kim Myeong-je, an archetypal right-handed pitcher with Seoul’s Whimoon High School. The Doosan Bears announced on May 9 that the team offered 600 million won ($508,000) to Kim as a signing bonus, more than the 450 million granted to Kim Dong-ju, the Bears’ previous record-holder. It is also the third-largest signing bonus in Korean baseball history, behind only the Hyundai Unicorns’ Lim Sun-dong and Kim Jin-u of the Kia Tigers.
The 18-year-old senior, who stands 188 centimeters (6-feet 2-inches) tall and weighs 93 kilograms (206 pounds) has already proven himself on the field. During a game against Sungnam High School, Kim Myeong-je took to the mound in the first inning after starter Kim Hyeong-jun got into trouble.
For the remaining nine innings, Kim Myeong-je gave up only six hits and three earned runs. When he faced Park Byeong-ho, who had hit a home run in the first inning and three during the previous day’s game, Kim struck him out twice in a row ― in the second and fifth innings.
Park was aiming for his fifth straight home run in the second inning, but couldn’t manage to connect against a 136-kilometer (85-mile) per-hour slider, Kim’s third pitch. He was frozen by the fourth pitch, a 149-kph fastball.
Pro team scouts at the stadium that day called the faceoff the “highlight of the year’s high school baseball.”
“Kim Myeong-je knows how to handle the game because he began playing from the time he was a freshman,” said Yun Hyeok, a Doosan official. “If he learns how to control the ball better, he could become a first-tier pitcher. How he adjusts to the pro league matters most now.”
Meanwhile, Park signed on with the LG Twins on May 7 for a reported 330 million won signing bonus. As rookies, Park and Kim will also each receive a 20-million won annual salary, which is in line with professional baseball guidelines.
At the competition, Kim and Park earned “best pitcher” and “best batter” honors, respectively, before joining the rosters of rival teams based in Seoul. Going forward, the two hotshots will no doubt square off against each other again plenty of times in the Korea Baseball League.
Pro ball teams continue to recruit players who showed unusual skill during the national competition, ahead of their formal announcement of new recruits on June 5.
A few teams have leaked out signings early. The SK Wyverns have already sealed a deal with Choi Jeong, a pitcher at Yushin High School in Suwon. The Hanwha Eagles are wooing two left-handed pitchers, Hong Seong-yong from Bukil High School in Cheonan, and Yun Geun-young out of Daejeon High School.
Kia is weighing Gwak Jeong-cheol, a pitcher with Gwangju Ilgo who has a reputation for throwing a 150-kilometer-per-hour fastball, and shortstop Lee Won-su from Seoul’s Dungsung High School. The Samsung Lions and Lotte Giants are also mulling three promising players.
by Lee Tae-il