High School Baseball Prospect’s Shadow on the Road to MLB

August 12, 2023 | by pondokslot.com

“We’re going to have to come up with a new draft strategy,” said a key member of the parent club with an earth-shattering sigh on August 1, the day Jang Hyun-seok (Masan Yongmago) announced his arrival in the United States. It’s not like Hanwha missed out on the No. 1 big fish, so what was so frustrating?

“We’ve already lost two potential first-round picks, Lee Chan-sol (Seoul High) and Jang Hyun-seok, who signed with the Boston Red Sox earlier,” the official said. “This means that the players we have on our radar are going to slip through our fingers at the draft, and we’ll have to pick players in the first round that we thought were going to be second-round picks,” he said.

It’s not just about this year’s draft. “Last year and this year, there are signs that the ‘Exodus’ of amateur prospects to the United States is beginning. The outflow of promising players is likely to increase in the future.”

What does a sub-$1 million contract mean?

In fact, last year alone, Shim Jun-seok (Pittsburgh Pirates), who was considered a potential ‘No. 1’ pick, chose to go to the United States, and Uhm Hyung-chan (Kansas City Royals), who was known as the biggest first-round pick, also boarded a plane to the United States early. This year, No. 1 Jang Hyun-seok and ‘potential first-rounder’ Lee Chan-sol also left for the United States. “Since Ryu Hyun-jin (Toronto Blue Jays) entered the U.S. through the posting system and achieved success, amateur prospects have preferred to enter the KBO league rather than going directly to the U.S. In particular, it was rare for big-name players to go straight to the U.S., but the atmosphere has changed recently.” “I’m worried that it will be like the late 1990s, when top players such as Park Chan-ho, Kim Byung-hyun, Seo Jae-ng, and Choi Hee-seop left for the U.S.,” the official said.

Jang Hyun-seok’s contract, announced by the Los Angeles Dodgers on Aug. 9, totaled $900,000 (about 1.18 billion won). Lee Chansol, who announced his signing on July 25, signed with Boston for a total of $300,000 (about $390 million). This is less than $1 million, which is the lower limit for a prospect’s overseas contract.

One scout from a local team said it was “a kind of insurance policy to minimize the risk of failure that comes with trying to make it in American baseball.” “In the past, the American farm system was a way of ‘grazing’ a lot of prospects from all over the world and picking out the ones that survived,” the scout said, adding that “the higher the contract, the more attention, support, and opportunities from the club and coaching staff.” “That’s why the saying ‘you have to get $1 million to make it in the US’ was considered orthodoxy in Korean baseball,” he said.

Practicalities also played a role. “In the past, even if you got a million dollars, you didn’t really have much money in your pocket after taking out the agent’s fee and living expenses,” said a baseball player. “If you didn’t make it to the big leagues and got kicked out of the team, you had to return home empty-handed. Due to the ‘two-year moratorium on returning to Korea from overseas,’ you can’t join a KBO team for at least two years. Even if you are selected in the rookie draft, you will not receive a contract. Considering all these risks, the market price of ‘1 million dollars’ would have been formed.”

In fact, most overseas players who have achieved success in the major leagues, such as Kim Byung-hyun (Arizona Diamondbacks, $2.25 million), Ryu Je-guk (Chicago Cubs, $1.6 million), Baek Cha-seung (Seattle Mariners, $1.4 million), Choo Shin-soo (Seattle Mariners, $1.37 million), Seo Jae-heng (New York Mets, $1.35 million), Kim Sun-woo (Boston Red Sox, $1.3 million), Park Chan-ho (Los Angeles Dodgers, $1.2 million), and Choi Hee-seop (Chicago Cubs, $1.2 million), arrived in the U.S. for more than $1 million.

On the other hand, Jang Hyun-seok’s $900,000 announcement is much more than what the first overall pick in the KBO Rookie Draft received in the past two years (500 million won), but it’s still a “bargain” by historical standards. The same goes for Lee Chansol. According to multiple scouts, Lee was projected to be a 6th-7th overall pick entering this year’s draft. Over the past two years, the average contract for first-round picks has been between $220 million and $250 million. Lee’s $300,000 from Boston is worth about $390 million at the current exchange rate.

Minor leaguers’ ‘tear-soaked bread’ is a thing of the past

So why did “top prospects” Jang Hyun-seok and Lee Chan-sol choose to play in the U.S. for less than $1 million, a misconception that needs to be cleared up. “Jang Hyun-seok’s $900,000 contract is not a bargain,” said a baseball insider familiar with US baseball, adding that the $1 million threshold for entering the US is a thing of the past. “The value of the signing bonus is different than in the past, and now that Major League Baseball has set a cap on the signing bonus for international prospects per club and strictly controls it, it’s hard to get big contracts over $1 million like in the past.”

A scout from a National League club also said, “Now, even $500,000 is a top-tier international contract. Even $300,000 is not a small amount of money.” In fact, outfielder Won Bin Cho’s $500,000 signing bonus with the St. Louis Cardinals two years ago ranked third among the team’s international prospects signed that year. “The recent significant increase in the value of the dollar is also a factor that cannot be ignored by players,” said an agency representative.

“It’s also important to note that the playing and training conditions in the U.S. minor leagues have improved significantly since this year.” MLB and the players’ union reached a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in March ahead of the start of the regular season that included improvements to the treatment of minor leaguers. Described as a “historic agreement,” the deal will see minor league players earn two to three times the salary they were making before, as well as health and pension benefits.

“The ‘soggy buns’ of the minor leagues are a thing of the past,” says the agent. You don’t have to live on peanut butter and jelly and bounce from motel to motel. Minor leaguers are getting a good diet, training environment, and housing.” Another agency representative said, “The treatment of minor leaguers has changed dramatically. From the rookie league stage, they are provided with hotel food and interpreters are provided by the club.”

The Los Angeles Dodgers, who signed Jang, have one of the best player development systems in American baseball, along with the New York Yankees. Choi, who is currently playing for the Dodgers’ minor league team, says, “The team has a chef who travels with the team and cooks for them. A containerized vehicle with a kitchen follows them to every away game. We have hotels and homestays wherever we go, so we don’t have to pay for accommodation.” The team’s diet and nutrition is so thoroughly controlled that other team officials are often surprised to see the bodies of the Dodgers’ minor leaguers. Boston is also one of the most prestigious clubs in the United States and boasts the best training environment and facilities.

One more thing. The time it takes to get from the minors to the big leagues has been greatly reduced. A former major league scout said, “It takes less time for prospects to get to the big leagues than in the past,” which he attributed to the “minor league restructuring” after COVID-19.

Major league teams used to have at least seven minor league organizations, from Rookie League to Triple-A. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a major reorganization of the minor leagues, and most teams now only have five minor league teams. The rookie draft, which used to be an “unlimited draft,” has a 20-round limit starting this year. “In the past, minor league teams had a lot of players who weren’t really prospects,” said the scout. “Now that the minor league structure has been slimmed down, only the most valuable prospects who actually have a chance of making it to the big leagues can be carefully selected and systematically nurtured from development to playing time,” he said.

As a result, it’s not uncommon for players to skip Triple-A and go straight to the majors. Jang Hyun-seok is considered by major league scouts to be “capable of making his big league debut as early as 2025”. The prospect of playing among the best players in the world, receiving the best facilities, room and board, undergoing scientific and organized training, and making a big league debut in a short period of time is enough to make a player want to go directly to the United States. This is why we expect to see more and more players opting for the American challenge over the historically ‘bargain basement’ contracts. 꽁머니사이트

Distrust of domestic coaches runs deep

The rush of prospects to the U.S. is bad news for domestic clubs, which are bemoaning the shortage of players. “The other day, at a presidents’ meeting, the parent club proposed a proposal to reduce the eligibility for posting from seven years to six years, but it was rejected by other clubs,” said a club official. “However, if the outflow of prospects continues like this, other clubs may need to consider it prospectively.”

Of course, improving the system to allow players to go overseas a year earlier isn’t the solution. The biggest problem is that the KBO is not as attractive to prospects as the US Major Leagues. KBO first-round draft signing bonuses have been “frozen” at around $200-500 million for more than a decade. Although it has improved, the training environment, system, and quality of coaches in the KBO are not up to par with that of American baseball. One parent of a student athlete said, “There is a deep distrust in the ability of Korean clubs to develop players and the way coaching staffs teach.”

The “SSG 2nd Team Violence Scandal” in July highlighted the current state of Korean baseball, which is professional in name only, but still steeped in outdated practices. “If professional baseball, which is monitored by many media and fans, is so bad, why not amateur baseball, which is under the radar,” the parent said. “Generation MZ” players prefer the American baseball culture, which respects individuality and autonomy, to the KBO League, which has a rigid seniority culture and “bossy” leaders. It is clear that there is no way to prevent them from entering the U.S. by imposing shackles such as a two-year moratorium. Instead, efforts should be made to make the league more attractive to baseball prospects.


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