Sung mentors Korean minor leaguersChoo Shin-soo of the Cleveland Indians is currently the only Korean player in Major League Baseball, but in a couple of years, there might be a few more.
Sung Min-kyu, a Korean coach in the Chicago Cubs farm system, is working with seven Korean players. In an interview with Yonhap News Agency this week, Sung said he believes the Cubs could field some Koreans in the majors in a few years.
Sung, 28, played college ball in Korea, New Zealand and the U.S. before being drafted by the KBO’s Kia Tigers in 2006. He started coaching in 2008.
“In the next two or three years, I think there will be some Korean Major League players,” said Sung, who is the first Korean coach in U.S. minor league baseball.
“They may or may not be regulars, but they will make the big league team. And afterward, we could have even more,” he said.
Major League Baseball clubs operate minor league teams across different levels. Triple-A is the highest level in the minors. In the middle is Double-A. Class A comprises two sub-classifications: Class A and Class A-Advanced. At the bottom of the rung is Class A-Short Season.
In 2010, right-handed pitcher Rhee Dae-eun played for the Daytona Cubs in Class A-Advanced. Three players - shortstop Lee Hak-ju, outfielder Ha Jae-hoon and right-handed pitcher Jung Su-min - played for the Peoria Chiefs, a Class A team.
Outfielder Na Kyung-min was the lone Korean on the Boise Hawks, a Class A-Short Season team. Outfielder Kim Dong-yub was a member of the Arizona League Cubs. Pitcher Kim Jin-yeong spent the season in the instructional league, where youngsters hone their skills before moving up to Class A clubs.
Sung now has multiple responsibilities for the Cubs. He is based in Mesa, Ariz., as the hitting coach for the rookie league team. But Sung also travels to Daytona, Fla., Peoria, Ill. and Boise, Idaho, throughout the year to check up on the development of Korean players. He also spends about half a year in Korea to scout young talent. Sung’s crisscrossing appears to have paid off, saying that all seven minor leaguers made progress in 2010.
Sung said Ha exceeded his preseason expectations. The 20-year-old, who converted from catcher to right fielder and then to center fielder, batted .317 with seven home runs and 46 RBI in 77 games. He also hit for the cycle in a game in August.
In 2011, Sung will have his eyes on Rhee, who posted a 5-13 record with a 5.25 ERA in 26 games, 25 of them starts. The 21-year-old had reconstructive elbow surgery in 2008 and last year was his first full season since the surgery.
All seven players joined the Cubs’ system straight out of high school over the past two to three years. Sung said it takes between three to five years before a high school graduate can have a crack at the majors.
“Reaching the major leagues fast doesn’t guarantee that the player will stay there,” Sung said. “Choo Shin-soo spent seven years in the minors.”