Orioles' signing of 17-year-old pitcher draws criticism in Korea

The Baltimore Sun

The Orioles’ signing of a 17-year-old high school sophomore from South Korea has drawn the ire of the Korean Baseball Organization, which is threatening to petition Major League Baseball for what it deems the fleecing of its young talent.

The Orioles announced the signing of Kim Seong-min, South Korea’s top left-handed high school pitching prospect, to a minor league contract Monday.

While signing players out of South Korea -- including ones in high school -- is customary, Kim is just the second high school sophomore to be signed by a major league club and the first since 1997, Yonhap News Agency reported. The KBO is reportedly planning to file an official complaint to MLB.

"In the name of KBO Commissioner Koo Bon-neung, we will soon send a letter to the MLB, telling them to refrain from indiscriminately signing players," Yang Hae-young, the KBO's secretary general, told Yonhap News Agency.

"If things do not change, we will either visit the MLB commissioner's office in person, or team up with leagues in Japan and Taiwan to confront major league teams' hegemonic rookie signings."

Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said Kim, a standout on South Korea’s version of the junior national team, will turn 18 in April.

“I really don’t understand the issue,” Duquette said. “He’s a player we think is mature enough to begin his career, and apparently he and his family think that as well.

"He's closer to 18 than he is 17."

The team didn’t release the details of Kim’s signing, but he was reportedly paid $550,000.

Duquette said he’s making Korea a priority in acquiring international talent. As the Boston Red Sox's GM, Duquette made major inroads there, signing eventual major leaguers Jin-Ho Cho and Sun-Woo Kim.

Prospects outside the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico can be signed as international free agents as young as 16, and it has become a common practice throughout Latin America.

The Orioles recently signed a 17-year-old from New Zealand and also inked an 18-year-old prospect from Guatemala.

The KBO had a territorial draft, in which clubs held rights to players at their local high schools and universities, until 2009, when an open draft was created.

Kim Seong-min is slated to attend Orioles minor league spring training in Sarasota, Fla. Kim, 5 feet 10, 180 pounds, has a fastball that reaches 90 mph and sits in the high 80s.

The Orioles also like his 12-to-6 curveball and changeup, which they believe can all become plus pitches as he develops.  

A couple of other notes:

-- Duquette likes the Orioles’ minor league signing of Ronny Paulino, who hit 11 homers and 25 doubles in 494 at-bats with the Pirates in 2007. While Taylor Teagarden, acquired in a trade with Texas in the offseason, is the hands-down backup catcher, Paulino offers nice organizational depth.

-- Right-handed pitcher Armando Galarraga, another minor league signing, will add another arm to the starting rotation competition, which Duquette likes. Galarraga, most known for his near-perfect game in 2010, was 13-7 in 3.73 ERA in 2008. He allowed just 152 hits in 178 2/3 innings that year and for his career has allowed fewer hits (508) than innings pitched (518).

-- Reliever Pat Neshek is another intriguing minor league addition. He hasn’t had the same command since Tommy John surgery in 2009, but his quirky, unorthodox sidearm delivery held hitters to a .216 batting average last year in 24.2 innings.

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