A tale of two playersThe start of a new year represents a fresh beginning, a new chapter, and people often begin the year with renewed determination.
Pitchers Shin Jeong-rak and Jang Min-ik are no different. But they began setting their goals after they became two of the 99 players chosen in the 2010 Korea Baseball Organization Amateur Draft, which is held each year in August.
The two rookie pitchers - who could not be more different from each other in terms of height, experience and pitching style - were picked by two teams from Seoul, the LG Twins and the Doosan Bears.
The teams took two very different approaches to the draft, but hope that their strategies will pay off in the seasons to come.
The LG Twins had the first overall pick in the draft and they went with Korea University graduate Shin, a 23-year-old pitcher with a side-arm delivery. They are hoping he will produce immediate results.
Doosan went with the towering Suncheon Hyocheon High School pitcher Jang, who was their seventh overall pick. Standing at 207 centimeters tall (6 feet 8 inches), Jang is now the tallest player in the history of the KBO. The Bears see Jang as an investment, and look forward to helping him develop over the next few years.
Last week, the two players went through a player orientation session at Yesan Deoksan Spa Castle in South Chungcheong. Next, they will train at Jamsil Stadium in southern Seoul.
As for their New Year’s resolutions, each player’s goals are as different as their backgrounds.
“I want to complete the season without any injuries,” Shin said. “It would be nice to be able to concentrate on training and competition without any injuries.”
“I want to gain some weight,” said Jang. “That’s my biggest wish at this point.”
The KBO draft
Around this time two years ago, KBO officials made a big change to the existing draft system. While the eight teams in the KBO once had the right to draft amateur players from the schools in their region, the rule was scrapped at the start of last year. Instead, the teams were allotted a pick in the draft according to their record the previous season. This meant that the team in last place had the right to sign the best prospect in the country.
This year, the KBO revised the rules on free agency. Starting in 2011, players who have completed all four years of university and served the two years of their mandatory military service will be permitted to become free agents after they have completed an eight-year contract with the team that drafted them. Players that do not meet the education and military service requirements will have to play for nine years on their rookie contracts.
A rookie with experience
Coming off a four-year career with Korea University, Shin was widely considered the best collegiate-level pitcher in the country.
Using a slider and a sinker as his go-to pitches, Shin’s pitches regularly clock in at 149 kilometers per hour (92.5 miles per hour). As a junior, Shin dominated his opponents and recorded eight wins and two losses with 77 strikeouts in 17 appearances with an impressive 0.93 ERA. At the end of his junior year, Shin suffered an injury to his throwing elbow but came back to post five wins and two losses with 48 strikeouts and a 1.41 ERA in 14 appearances in his senior year.
“We needed a player who would produce immediate results,” explained LG’s scouting manager, Kim Jin-chul, on why the Twins decided to select Shin as their first overall pick in the draft. “We evaluated high school and university players on game management and pitch velocity, among other factors. Shin was the closest match to the type of player we were looking for.”
“I was confident about my chances of being the top [draft] pick until my junior year,” Shin said. “But due to injuries, I missed a lot of playing time in my senior year and I wasn’t sure what would happen this year. I was hoping to get selected by a Seoul-based team, so that was nice. I was kind of awestruck when I found out.”
Shin’s maturity and character also scored high with the LG scouts. Kim says he likes Shin’s mental fortitude and his attitude.
Shin describes himself as a straight-laced player who works hard to reach his goals. During his days at Bugil High School, Shin was not considered a topflight prospect. With his top pitch clocking in at a mediocre 136 kilometers per hour, he was passed over by pro scouts. But he worked on his form and technique while he was in college, adding 10 kilometers of velocity to his pitch.
“I did want to improve the velocity on my pitches but that was not the reason why I tweaked my pitching form,” Shin said. “I hadn’t noticed much difference myself but others told me my pitching form had become faster and more concise. I think that’s reason for my improvement.”
Shin continued, “I will work hard and will not lose sight of my outlook and the goals that I set for the year. Even if I don’t produce immediately, I will continue to try my best. I hope the fans will continue to support me, and I hope the day will come when they chant my name.”
Korea’s Big Unit?
Jang is a pitcher whose strengths are completely different from those of Shin.
His most noticeable quality is his height, and with it he has earned the nickname “Randy” Min-ik, a reference to the towering American pitcher Randy “Big Unit” Johnson, who retired from the MLB last week. Prior to Jang, the tallest player in the KBO was the Hanwha Eagles’ Kim Joo, who stood two meters tall.
“I’ve been tall from an early age,” Jang said. “I recently visited the hospital and was told that my growth spurt had ended. Despite my height, I have never been approached by basketball or volleyball coaches.”
Jang is so tall that he has even had to adjust his height in order to show his respect for his fellow players.
“Lee Won-seok [a veteran Bears first baseman] told me to greet him at eye level, so I had to crouch down when bowing to him,” Jang said. “I do that with all the players on the team now.”
While he began attracting attention from the media in his second year of high school, with a fastball clocking in at just 130 kilometers per hour he was considered a raw prospect. But pro scouts began to take notice when Jang improved the velocity on his fastball to 140 kilometers per hour in his senior year. In 10 games at six tournaments that year, Jang posted two wins and three losses in 47 innings with a 3.26 ERA.
Not many pro teams had Jang going in the first round of the draft. While Jang’s height is his greatest asset, he lacks power due to his scrawny frame. In high school, Jang weighed in at only 80 kilograms (176 pounds).
But Doosan went against the grain and surprised everyone by picking Jang.
“I never expected to be taken in the first round,” Jang said. “When they made the announcement, I drew a blank. I had thought I would be taken in the third round, so it was a pleasant surprise to be taken in the first.
“I was in the middle of pitching a game at the time and had just returned to the bench after five scoreless innings. That’s when my manager told me. I pitched an additional one and two-thirds of an inning and the news gave me a boost on the mound.”
Unlike the Twins, who were looking for a rookie who would make an immediate impact, Doosan picked Jang as an investment.
“We figured it would be difficult to select the pitcher we wanted with our seventh overall pick [which is late in the first round],” Kim Hyun-hong, the manager of Doosan’s scouting team, said. “We evaluated players with the thought of developing a player for three to five years.”
“To be honest, we are hoping Jang develops into a Korean version of Randy Johnson,” said Lee Bok-geun, another member of the scouting team.
By Huh Jin-woo