Kim Seong-min, the 17-year-old Korean pitching phenom signed by the Orioles this offseason, has been suspended indefinitely by the country’s governing baseball body, according to a report from the Yonhap News Agency.
Under the suspension enacted by the Korean Baseball Association, Kim will not be allowed to play or coach baseball in Korea.
It’s the latest move in the KBA’s retaliation for the Orioles’ signing of Kim, a high school sophomore who pitched for Korea’s junior national team and is seen as the country’s top left-handed pitching prospect. Only once before has a high school sophomore signed with a major league club (Bong Jung-keun signed with Atlanta in 1997).
The Korea Baseball Organization, which runs the professional baseball league in Korea, contends that the signing of Kim is an example of Major League Baseball’s fleecing of Korea’s young baseball talent. The KBO has filed a complaint with the MLB office, complaining that the organization wasn’t made aware the Orioles were negotiating with Kim, though KBO has not made any direct complaint to the Orioles, Yonhap reports.
The KBO, which runs Korea's top baseball league, cites a rule that says Korean players can contact Korean and foreign teams only during their final year of high school or college.
Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette told The Sun last week that he didn’t “understand the issue.” While Kim is a sophomore, he will be 18 in April. He is slated to report to minor league spring training in Sarasota, Fla. Kim was reportedly signed for $550,000
“He’s a player we think is mature enough to begin his career, and apparently he and his family think that as well,” Duquette said.
This isn’t the first time a Korean player has been suspended for signing with a major league club. Pitcher Kim Byung-hyun and first baseman Choi Hee-seop were also suspended for leaving for the states before completing college. Both suspensions have been since removed, and both returned to play in Korea.
Duquette signed a number of Korean pitchers while he was general manager of the Boston Red Sox.
Outside the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico, players as young as 16 can be signed as international free agents. This offseason, the Orioles have signed an 18-year-old outfielder from Guatemala and a 17-year-old softball sensation from New Zealand.