Guest Post: Everything you need to know about Yankees target Hyo-Jun Park

6/23-6/25 Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays
Injury Updates: Pineda, Nova, Beltran, Banuelos

The following is a guest post from long-time reader Sung-Min Kim, who you can follow on Twitter at @SungMinKim116.

(Sports Q)
(Sports Q)

As many of us know, the Yankees are set to pour a lot of money into international signings come July 2nd. The reports say they already have come to an agreement with three big-name prospects in Latin America and there is possibly one more coming from Korea. On Tuesday, it was reported that 18-year old SS prospect Hyo-Jun Park will sign with the Yankees and it sounds official — his parents have quipped on it as well. What does this signing mean and what kind of talent is he?

In terms of the Asian market, the Yankees have a richer history with signing Japanese and Taiwanese players, but not much with Koreans. In the 2004-05 offseason, the team was actually strongly linked to LHP Dae-Sung Koo (who, by the way, was a beast in KBO in the 90’s and did a decent job in Japan as well. At the age of 44, he was the saves leader in the Australian league in 2013-14) and reportedly came to an agreement, but the lefty ended up signing with the Mets and this ended up happening. Before the 2010 season, the team signed veteran RHP Chan-Ho Park, who had rejuvenated his career as a reliever, but he proved to be ineffective (5.12 FIP in 35.1 IP) for the Bombers and was DFA’d within few months.

Well, the reports strongly indicate that the Yanks are an official announcement away from sealing Park as their farm commodity. The bonus amount is reported to be around $1 to $1.2 million and the team is ready to supply Park a good amount of accommodation for his adjustment to the new culture, including a full-time translator, a “hotel-quality dormitory,” etc. He would be the first Korean IFA ever to sign with the Yankees.

As a junior of the Yatap High School of Kyung-gi province, the shortstop is tearing the cover off the ball in the Gogyo Yagu Jumal League (high school weekend league), hitting for a .467/.614/.967 slash line in 44 plate appearances in 10 games. Out of his 14 hits, 7 of them are extra-base hits with three homers. Considering that Park’s been considered a cream of the crop tier prospect since his sophomore year, when he hit .371/.475/.557 with 1 HR, his offensive performance so far this year has put him into a formidable prospect status. Another note about his power performance is that he’s done it all with a wood bat in a league that banned the use of aluminum bats back in 2004. Also, he has shown a good eye throughout his high school career. For example, during his freshman year, even when he hit for only .256 avg., he managed a .468 OBP. So far in 2014, he has a 13-to-4 BB-to-K ratio in 10 games.

Garnering attention since his sophomore year, a lot of Korean scouts have pegged Park as the possible No. 1 overall pick of the 2015 KBO Draft. At this point, it’s unlikely any KBO team will choose Park. Back in 2006, the Kia Tigers selected RHP Young-Il Jung, who had already generated strong ML interest, and the righty ended up signing with the LA Angels and the Tigers ended up wasting their 1st-round pick. The team with the first pick on the upcoming KBO Draft, the KT Wiz (an expansion team that will make its debut in KBO next season), has already announced their first two picks they received as an expansion team (RHP Sung-Moo Hong and RHP Kwon Joo). Many speculate that had Park not maintained a strong connection with the Yankees, the shortstop would have been the Wiz’s pick.

According to this article, before this winter Park looked forward to being selected in the KBO draft. “I was approached by the Yankees during the sophomore year of high school,” Park said, “my parents liked the idea of going to ML but I wasn’t sure what to expect so I declined their offer at the time.” Park’s decision changed when he trained in Los Angeles over this past winter. “I played with American players few times then and I felt they had better power and basics,” said Park, “despite all that, I felt that I played very well against them, so I started to feel confident about (playing in America in the future).”

(dearsanta.tistory.com)
(dearsanta.tistory.com)

The Yankees were not the only team that showed an interest in Park. The San Diego Padres reportedly made a $1 million offer and their scout said that “(in his sophomore year) Park was a $500K-worthy player and after I saw him in Los Angeles, he was more of a $1 million-worthy talent.” The Padres are not alone. According to Chi-Hoon Lee, Park’s agent, seven ML teams, including the Yankees, have shown interest in the shortstop, but the link also states the Yankees are Park’s sole priority.

The $1.2 million bonus is not as high as what the Yanks are giving to few other IFA signees but it’s still a lot of money. In fact, it rivals the top-tier annual salary of KBO. The highest-paid player of the league, 1B Tae-Kyun Kim, is set to receive $1.403 million for 2014. For another point of reference, OF Hyung-Woo Choi, a 30-year old proven offensive commodity, gets paid only $421K for 2014 season. A 18-year old prospect Park has a chance to receive 3x the money that an offensive star Choi is – who is hitting for a 1.074 OPS so far this season. It is suffice to say that the amount is too good to easily pass up on.

The biggest Korean IF prospect to have signed with an ML team prior to Park is SS Hak-Ju Lee for the Rays farm system. Park has gotten comparisons to Lee for both his offensive and defensive game. This would have been a more thrilling thought last year, before Lee tore his ACL while hitting for 225 wRC+ for the Durham Bulls in AAA level. He has yet to find his offensive groove so far this season (73 wRC+) but he is still only a 23-year-old in AAA and have some time to work himself into position to be a future SS for the Rays. Lee was signed by the Cubs as a 17-year-old back in 2008 with a $1.15 million bonus. Park may get around that figure (or a little more). In six minor league seasons, Lee has hit for a .285/.360/.380 line overall.

Here’s MLB.com’s scouting report on Park – he ranks #12 in the overall list (also the site misspelled his name as “Hyu-Jun Park”).

Scouting Grades: Hit: 60 | Power: 45 | Run: 60 | Arm: 55 | Field: 60

Park and his teammates from Yatap High School in South Korea spent more than a month in the United States playing against top high school teams from California earlier this year. There’s a real possibility the young infielder will get a chance to see a lot more of the country in the near future.

A legitimate shortstop prospect, Park has the tools to stay at the position as he develops. What’s more, some scouts think he has the potential to be above average in every facet of the game, except for power. That said, there’s the belief that he could still hit at least 10 home runs when he gains strength. He can also spray the ball to all fields.

Scouts view him as a good defender with solid fundamentals and compare him to Tampa Bay infield prospect Hak-Ju Lee. Park has been scouted heavily by the Yankees.

Based on what I hear about Park, the scouting grades and report sound about right. Personally, I’d like to see Park fill out his frame and have a better power display than projected (because power is sexy), but he’s still projected to show plus hit, run and field tools. If his high school slash lines are any indication, he also has some plate discipline.

Of course, the tools translating in pro ball are all big ifs. He could develop as well as Lee or he could be a costly flop like Kelvin De Leon. The odds for the latter is much bigger than the former — especially considering the cultural adjustment and language issues — it won’t be an entirely smooth ride for Park. Rangers OF Shin-Soo Choo is the main example of a Korean position player who enjoyed success after years of toiling in the minors and going through cultural and language adjustment as a teenager. However, for every Shin-Soo Choo, there are a bunch of failed prospects who never adjusted to the American lifestyle and English language and returned to their home country.

Lee started out at a low-A level instead of any short-season leagues and, according to reports, Park may start at the same level as well. The shortstop himself said he wants to be a ML regular in “three years” but I think it will take longer. The tools and the hype are there. Will he be the next Shin-Soo Choo or the next Carmen Angelini? Too early to speculate what will he be like in 3-4 years, but as a Korean and a Yankees watcher (who wanted to see Choo sign with the Yankees over the offseason), I’m looking forward to seeing his development in the system.

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6/23-6/25 Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays
Injury Updates: Pineda, Nova, Beltran, Banuelos
  • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

    Great stuff!

  • Tanaka Teriyaki

    Kung bung wa Sung Min san! Excellent post, arigato

    • Isaac

      Good intent but wrong language.

    • http://www.twitter.com/SungMinKim116 Sung-Min Kim

      A for Effort

  • http://www.twitter.com/_swarlesbarkley Mark Teixeira – Ghostbuster (formerly Drew) RIP Egon

    Well, the reports strongly indicate that the Yanks are an official announcement away from sealing Park as their farm commodity. The bonus amount is reported to be around $1 to $1.2 million and the team is ready to supply Park a

    bag full of dicks?

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      That’s my bad. Coding mistake.

    • JLC 776

      Man, I really wish I had seen the coding error. Not because I want to see a bag full of dicks, but for the novelty.

      And the dicks.

      • RetroRob

        I suspect the coding error simply left a blank area allowing Mark Teixeira – Ghostbuster, etc., etc. to creatively offer a suggestion.

        Or, Mike’s coding errors automatically fill in “bag of dicks.”

        I like my latter suggestion better, but suspect the former.

  • W.B. Mason Williams

    Cool. I have no idea how prospects from Korea compare, but it’s pretty obvious the kid was raking in his places he has played.

    Tool grades are solid if unspectacular. Let’s get him to Staten Island. Talk about culture shock.

    • http://www.staggeringbeauty.com/ ALZ

      Wouldn’t think it’s worse than many of the kids from the DR. He is from a suburb of Seoul, which is bigger than NYC, and it’s developed country too. Is just different language, other things I don’t think it would be worse than a latin american player.

      • http://www.staggeringbeauty.com/ ALZ

        And the big thing is that if he can stick at short his bat really just needs to hold it’s own. Look at Drew, Andrus, Lowrie, etc. Just hit enough, power isn’t a big concern.

        • I’m One

          Bingo. A solid, if unspectacular, bat on a SS that can truely field the position is all that’s needed. If he can make it to the majors in 3 – 4 years or so as he hopes, then the Yankees would only need to sign one or 2 players over the next few years to fill in the gaps. (Of course, it’s absolutely crazy of me to count on him to ever make it to the big league club at this point.)

      • Dan G

        I think the transition for Asian players is actually significantly harder than Spanish speaking players (Dominican, Cuban, Venezuelan, etc.).

        Spanish is a LOT closer to English than Korean is so I imagine it’s easier to learn.

        Plus, there’s a pretty good chance that a Dominican prospect has a veteran player to lean on, like how Vlad Guerrero used to take the younger players to his mom’s house for comfort food.

        It’s a hard transition no matter what but it’s a lot harder if there’s nothing familiar to help you out.

  • http://www.staggeringbeauty.com/ ALZ

    Gives them some good time to see what they have too, since he is so young. If he makes it to the majors he very well may need to become a US citizen in order to avoid the 2 years of military service. Choo had it required too, but they gave him a deal that if his team won the asia games.

    • RetroRob

      In easily the biggest pressure situation he has ever faced, Choo basically helped carry his team to the championship so he could avoid the two years of service. I kind of wanted him on the Yankees from that point forward, but then he surprisingly took a couple steps backward before re-emerging last year. It was not to be.

  • http://www.staggeringbeauty.com/ ALZ

    Sounds good. Not really hugely concerned with offensive ceiling it sounds like, but someone that can actually stick at short. He has a good shot to be a solid defender, and have a bat that holds its own.

  • mitch

    Who knows what any of the international signings will amount to, but it’s nice to see them being so active in so many different countries. They’re definitely leaving no stone unturned.

  • The Great Gonzo

    Chan Ho Park!!!! Still my favorite

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6GIEHPGj9sI

  • Dirk Diggler

    Really nice read. Thanks. It tells me everything that the MLB.com blurb left out. The Yankees currently have more shortstop prospects that actually have decent potential now (Wade, Avelino, Mateo, and now Park) than I can really ever remember. They all have a long way to go, and maybe none of them pan out — but I think the Yankees are trying to emphasize that position in the farm system. Too bad they lost the gamble on Culver.

  • Remember Juan Miranda

    It would be pretty awesome if he signed. I always thought the Yankees should use their international presence to really scout baseball hotbeds around the world. Having a lot of eyes in a lot of different places likely pays dividends.

    Also, how awesome would it be if Rob Refsnyder and Park were on the team together in 2017? Two Korean-origin infielders playing for the Yanks, that would be something.

  • vicki

    good stuff, thanks.

    and that koo link is awesome. i know it came at our expense, but enough time has passed that i can appreciate how huge the moment was. sometimes yankee fans forget, but even bad seasons are full of good times, and david wright squealing like a girl. carpe diem.

  • Chip

    Man, I guess at this rate we have to have a homegrown shortstop by 2019 right? I mean between this dude, Mateo, Estrada, Wade and Avelino we have to get at least an average player, right…………..right?

    I’ll just dream of an infield of Mateo, Park, Refsnyder and Bird now and be completely disappointed in a few years

  • http://www.twitter.com/SungMinKim116 Sung-Min Kim

    Thanks for kind words, guys. And FYI, the KBO teams announced their first-round draft picks for the upcoming one and none of them chose Park so take that for what you will

  • Chuckit

    signing a Korean prospect shouldn’t be the priority right now ,unless he’s going to start right away and hit w/ RISP.

    • SevenAces

      This isn’t your house burning down and you need to find the 3 things you need to bring with you…

      The two do not affect each other.

  • Bryan

    I wonder if he will start at the rookie level or in Staten Island. He is 18 years old and equivalent to a HS draftee.

  • RetroRob

    They clearly are looking to beef up their SS depth if Garcia remains one of their top picks and they also add in Park.

    Usually when scouts grade a prospect they do so based on current abilities and then on what they project for the future. So power tool might be 50 today but projects to 65. In this case, I’m not sure what the grading system is looking at. I suspect it might be just future.

  • Brian in MA

    I take it that MLB does not have the same kind of “gentleman’s agreement” with the KBO like they to with Nippon Baseball? MLB teams don’t go after Japanese youngsters (like Tanaka or Darvish) out of high school out of respect (or something) for the Japanese domestic league, and MLB treats NPB free agents (and posted players) as equal to MLB free agents that don’t hit your International spending cap.

  • Oy Vay !

    Saw youtube footage of Park….swing wise, about 80% Shin-Soo Choo, with a 20% sprinkle of Ichiro. You can tell how much these kids idolize Korean and Asian players in general.

  • Steve Sacks

    Makes sense for the yankees to be a bit more proactive and aggressive about obtaining International talent. With the way other teams are locking up their young guys it really makes having a well-stocked minor leagues important and the yankees don’t have that at the moment.