Dan Duquette's continued pursuit of international talent for the Orioles led him to South Korea and the Orioles executive vice president this week announced the signing of 17-year-old, left-handed high school pitcher Seong-Min Kim.
"Kim is a top quality left-handed pitcher," Duquette said. "He's got an excellent breaking ball and very good command of it. It's a 12-6 breaking ball and he's got an average fastball. Our scouts really like this player and they've been following him for a couple years. He's one of the top youth pitchers in South Korea.
"We had a lot of success recruiting pitchers from Korea in my last stop and we're starting our recruitment of Korean pitchers for the Orioles with this kid Kim. I think he's got a chance to be a good one. He'll be in spring training with our minor league teams."
Kim is expected to come to the United States soon and train in California before he leaves for Sarasota and the start of the O's minor league spring camp early next month.
He is a player that was on the Orioles' radar for a while and certainly even before Duquette took over.
"He was one of the top youth pitchers in Korea and when their national team would go out, he would be their lead pitcher. He was known by the Orioles' scouting staff and I also had knowledge of him through my contacts in the Far East," Duquette said.
It seems not everyone values Kim as the Orioles do. ESPN's Keith Law said this about the signing via Twitter:
The O's gave $550K to a 5'9" Korean HS lefty throwing 80-83 with no feel for a breaking ball. Nice use of savings from cutting pro scouting.
Duquette said Kim throws harder than that and the Orioles have seen him do it.
"His current velocity is 88 to 90," Duquette said. "He throws hard. Some scouts may have seen him in a tournament where it was 30 degrees, basically freezing and they may not have seen the velocity, but we've seen this player several times and we've seen him work in a range of 88 to 90 mph."
Kim is listed by the Orioles at 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds. Sometimes there are concerns about shorter pitchers having trouble getting a downhill plane on their delivery, but Duquette didn't see height as an issue for Kim.
"I think the important thing is the quality of his pitches and, at 17 years old, I'm not sure he's done completely with his growth cycle. I think he's got an opportunity to continue to fill out and mature physically. And I like the quality of his stuff. His stuff plays and that translates well to get hitters out," he added.
Most high school pitchers drafted and/or signed by any big league team with a few exceptions (Dylan Bundy should be one) would probably spend their first pro season playing in extended spring training and maybe joining an organization's short-season farm club in June. But Duquette said there is a decent chance that Kim could start the 2012 season with a full-season club like Single-A Delmarva.
"I think he's a good candidate for that and the reason is he has an advanced curveball and can throw it for strikes. Left-handed pitchers with top quality breaking balls have a weapon they can use to get out left and right-handed hitters and there aren't a lot of them. Kim has a good delivery and good control," Duquette said.
"I think a big thing is for Kim to come to the States, get his feet on the ground and get acclimated to the Oriole organization and also the culture of Major League Baseball. So we should be able to do that. If he pitches well in spring training, he'd be a candidate to make one of our A (ball) teams. If he needs a little more time to get acclimated, he would go with one of our extended spring training teams and play on one of our summer (short-season) ballclubs."
As a player coming to the United States to play pro baseball for the first time, Kim will face challenges and Duquette and the Orioles will try to help him adapt and adjust.
"Because it's the first time we have signed a Korean player, we need to be sensitive to some of the cultural changes that the player will experience," he said. "So we're in the process of putting together a player development program for the kids that we sign out of Korea and that should help the Korean players become acclimated.
"A lot of it depends on their education level and their capability with the language. The other part is the support the team puts together in terms of interpreters and educational training. Those have a lot to do with the player (successfully) advancing through the system. We are putting those together now to aid in his transition."
Duquette chose not to confirm whether the Orioles had signed Kim to a $550,000 signing bonus. If that was the price, his bonus would be higher than what 12 second-round draft picks got from the 2011 draft.
"What is important to me is the ability of the player. I appreciate the question, but we don't really talk about the economics of the contracts with the players. But we like his stuff and he's one of the top quality left-handed pitchers for his age group on the world market and we're glad to have signed him," Duquette said.
If the Orioles did sign Kim for a bonus of $550,000, it would likely be the largest signing bonus given an international amateur player by the club in nearly 16 years. Pitcher John Stephens was signed out of Australia in July of 1996 and received a bonus reportedly between $500,000 and $700,000.
In July of 2010, the Orioles signed 16-year-old Dominican Hector Veloz to a $300,000 bonus. That is believed to be their largest bonus ever for a Dominican player.
Whatever the price tag, Kim is a player Duquette clearly likes and is part of his larger plan to keep adding talent from around the world.
"To get back into contention, one of the things we are going to do and be about is our identity, is we're going to be aggressive on the the international platform. We're going to be signing the most talented players that we can from all over the world to come help the Orioles. We need to bring our team back through pitching and with Kim, we have a quality pitcher to get into the organization. With good player development, which is something we will depend on to rebuild our team, we should be able to make an impact with signings like this," he said.
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