A Dispatch From Day One of the WBSC U-18 World Cup

I am currently in Busan, South Korea for the 2019 WBSC U-18 World Cup, where 12 countries have teams featuring some of their best young talents. Friday, August 30 was Opening Day and, besides an occasional breeze, it was quite sunny and humid. Below are notes on a few of the notable players I saw.

Chen Po-Yu (Taiwan), RHP

The 17-year-old Chen is far from an unknown at this point. According to the international prospect section of THE BOARD, he could be looking at a seven-figure signing bonus in 2020. A major league scout told me that, at this moment, Chen is the most “complete package” among the pitching prospects out of Taiwan. Needless to say, a large group of major league scouts swarmed behind home plate to see Chen pitch against Panama.

Even before his start, Chen’s delivery stood out to me during his bullpen. He has an easy, fast-tempo motion that was direct to home. He finished well towards the home plate, setting himself up for good fielding position in case of a batted ball. He also showed good tempo between his pitches and rarely seemed hesitant to throw any of his pitches.

Chen’s fastball sat at around 89-91 mph throughout the game. He maintained the velocity late in the game when he broke 80-pitch mark. In general, he showed a good feel for commanding the pitch in different parts of the zone. In the second inning, he left some pitches up, which led to some hard contact. When he located his heater well, however, he was able to get called strikes or set up his secondary pitches.

Chen featured two different breaking pitches: a slider, with a 10-4 tilt, around 78-80 mph and a curveball, with a 11-5 tilt, around 71-74 mph. Earlier in the game he turned to his slider as his primary out pitch but he mixed in his curve more later in the game. He generated weak contact and whiffs with both, though it seemed that slider was the sharper one. He not only buried it below the zone for whiffs but also in the zone to freeze hitters. Chen barely showed his changeup and when he did, it wasn’t plus.

Even though he doesn’t have the most overpowering stuff, it’s easy to see why scouts are paying attention to Chen. He showed consistency for most of the game and an ability to throw strikes. And because of his lanky, projectable frame, he will probably add some velocity as he matures.

So Hyeong-Joon (Korea), RHP

So was the first selection for the Korea Baseball Organization’s KT Wiz club in the 2019 draft, so you won’t be hearing his name linked to major league teams any time soon, though a scout told me that multiple major league teams pursued him before So ultimately chose to start his professional career in the KBO. Still, his performance against Netherlands was something worthy of a write-up.

Just like Chen, So’s delivery was devoid of many wasted motions. His motion was quite direct to the home plate and he showed a consistent high three-quarters arm slot regardless of what he was throwing. Unlike Chen, So finishes closer toward third after the pitch release, which may not put him in a good fielding position.

In a high school tournament earlier this year, So relied on his high-80s two-seamer for weak contact. Tonight, he featured more four-seamers, which sat in the 89-91 mph range, topping out at 92 mph. He also varied his fastball movements – sink, cut or straight. He has a stocky lower half with wide shoulders. It seems like he may already have filled out but there could be more room to grow, along with his velocity.

So’s go-to secondary pitch was his slider. When the pitch was on, it had a late break that induced some whiffs or weak contact. He usually utilized the pitch after setting it up with a low fastball. He also showed a few changeups – one of which had a nice sinking movement to earn a swinging strikeout – but did not feature it as frequently as his slider.

So’s strong suit was his command. Against right-handed hitters, he attacked the low outside part of the zone to induce multiple called strikes. He relied on his lower-zone command to get ahead or make outs. Because he was able to throw low fastball strikes, his sliders below the zone became more effective. He’s not particularly overpowering by major league prospect standards, but he’s staying in Korea and his velocity is projected to be greater than average in the KBO. So may need a few years to be an established KBO starting pitcher, but he has the potential to be a good one.

Quick Notes:

Yu Chien (Taiwan), RHP

18-year-old Yu was brought in as Taiwan’s closer against Panama. He has a classic lanky and projectable feel to him. With his easy delivery, Yu sat 89-91 mph with his fastball while topping out at 92.6 mph. His fastball featured some late life and it worked effectively to get some swings-and-misses against Panamanian hitters. His slider, which was clocked in the mid-80s, flashed some sharpness as Yu used it below the zone as an effective strikeout pitch.

Nam Ji-Min (Korea), RHP

A recent Hanwha Eagles draft pick, Nam was brought in as a late-inning reliever tonight against Netherlands. He threw the hardest fastball of the tournament today, sitting 91-92 mph while touching 93 mph. Along with the velocity, his fastball also had some late life and induced an ample number of whiffs from Netherlands hitters. His command came and went – he was prone to inducing hard contact after missing his spots. He has a high-effort, overhand delivery (reminiscent of Yovani Gallardo’s) that creates a steeper downward angle towards home plate. At the moment, Nam possesses above-average velocity for the KBO, but to succeed in the league, possibly as a late-inning reliever, he will need to polish his command and secondary pitches.

Sung-Min Kim writes for River Ave. Blues, and has written for MLB.com, The Washington Post, Baseball America and VICE Sports. Besides baseball writing, he is also passionate about photojournalism and radio broadcasting. Follow him on Twitter @sung_minkim.

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3 years ago

Just a thing I wanted to point out. “Finishing in a fielding position” often means that are cutting the decel portion of the pitch short resulting in, at least in part, a possible loss of velocity.

There is an obsession with it with old school scouts and coach dad’s, but it’s not a particularly looked for thing by teams these days. A lot of teams probably just see it as potential to add more.