The Orioles' signing of a South Korean teenage pitching prospect has prompted Korean baseball officials to consider imposing stricter rules on major league clubs looking to sign the nation’s top young talent.
Last month, the Orioles signed 17-year-old Kim Seong-min, regarded as South Korea’s top left-handed high school pitching prospect, to an international free-agent deal. The move has since drawn outrage from the South Korean baseball community, which claims the Orioles didn’t follow the proper measures when signing Kim to a reported $550,000 deal.
The Korean Baseball Organization, the professional league in South Korea, reportedly has a player contract agreement with MLB stating that a major league club interested in a prospect playing in South Korea – professional or amateur – must conduct a “status check” on the player’s signing eligibility through the commissioner’s office. The KBO contends the Orioles failed to do that.
The rule doesn’t prevent a team like the Orioles from signing an amateur player, but Jeong Geum-jo, the KBO’s head of baseball operations, told the Yonhap News Agency he wants that to change and adjust the rules so that the KBO has the authority to prevent MLB teams from signing amateur players.
“If we tell MLB that a certain professional player is under contract and must not be engaged, MLB teams can't contact him,” Jeong told the Yonhap News Agency. “But the most we can do with amateurs is to tell MLB that a player is soon eligible for the KBO draft and that we hope MLB teams don't engage him. There's nothing we can do if he is signed anyway, because an amateur is not a KBO player.
“We're seeking to revise the agreement so that only those who are playing or have played for professional teams can sign with MLB teams. That way, we can protect amateur players.”
Jeong admitted to Yonhap that the status check is a “mere formality,” but he also wants to see MLB issue some kind of discipline on the Orioles.
The KBO has already filed a formal complaint with MLB, contending that the Orioles failed proper protocol in signing Kim.
Korean baseball officials have already enacted their own disciplinary action.
This week, the Korean Baseball Association, the nation’s governing body for baseball, banned Orioles scouts from KBA-sanctioned games, which include the national high school and college tournaments that serve as a treasure trove for scouts seeking the country’s top players. The KBA added that the same penalty will fall on major league teams that contact amateur players before their senior seasons.
The KBA also suspended Kim from playing and coaching in Korea indefinitely for making contact with a pro team before his final year of high school.
The Orioles are planning to release a team statement on the matter and that could come as early as Friday. A call to a MLB spokesmanseeking comment Thursday was not returned. .
Even though Kim, who is slated to participate in minor-league spring training in Sarasota, was not reportedly in his final year of high school when the Orioles signed him last month, he will turn 18 in April.
Players outside the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico can be signed by major league clubs as international free agents once they turn 16.