Questions About Orioles and Korean Prospects

If you missed it yesterday, Ben Badler of Baseball America has some pretty fascinating background about the Orioles saga with Korean prospect Seong-Min Kim. You probably heard about the signing when the Korean Baseball Organization filed a protest with Major League Baseball due to the Orioles failing to follow protocol. The deal ended up being voided, Kim was suspended by the KBO, and Orioles scouts were banned from games in Korea over the incident.

However, as Badler reports, there appears to be way more to the story than just a snafu over the improper signing of a prospect.

However, Duquette told MASN Sports in a Feb. 3 story that Kim threw 88-90 mph with “an excellent breaking ball and very good command of it . . . He throws hard. Some scouts may have seen him in a tournament where it was 30 degrees, basically freezing and they may not have seen the velocity, but we’ve seen this player several times and we’ve seen him work in a range of 88 to 90 mph.”

A Jan. 23 story in the Baltimore Sun cited an anonymous Orioles official who called Kim the top high school lefthander in Korea, and the Orioles’ press release announcing the signing lists Kim at 5-foot-11, 180 pounds. The Orioles official said Kim could grow to 6-foot-1, 195 pounds.

However, Baseball America surveyed 11 other teams that scout Asia (two of which did not have a report on him on file) and could not find any organization that had interest in signing Kim or had a similarly glowing scouting report. While scouts often disagree about the futures of international teenage prospects, most of the other teams’ reports on Kim’s present ability and future potential were consistent with each other.

According to the other teams, Kim’s fastball ranged from 78-85 mph. The maximum velocity another team had on Kim was 87 mph. Other scouts called his breaking ball a slurvy curveball in the mid- to high 60s and graded it from 20-30 on the 20-80 scouting scale, which rates as well below average. Scouts say he’s likely an inch or two shorter than his listed height of 5-feet-11, has little projection and some funkiness in his arm action. Scouts were mixed on his command, though some said he was generally around the plate and would be able to pitch in the KBO.

Many believed the Orioles were the only team interested in Kim. Several teams turned him in as a non-prospect.

Badler notes that he can’t get any other teams to back up the Orioles expectation that Kim was a real prospect of note. Teams do see players at different times, and it’s possible that the Orioles were the only team in attendance when he started sitting at higher velocities, but it is pretty unusual for the industry consensus on a player to be so different than what is being stated publicly by the signing team.

The story doesn’t end there. Badler also details the history between GM Dan Duquette and new director of international baseball Roy Poitevint, and their past dealings with players in Asia. Badler notes that Poitevint was affiliated with a management team that represented Tae-Hyon CHong, who also had a deal with the Orioles fall through this winter after he failed a physical. Duquette and Poitevint were also extremely active in Asia during their time together with the Red Sox, but Badler notes that the return on investment from the players they signed to large bonuses during that time was essentially zero.

The entire saga of Seong-Min Kim and the Orioles is a bit strange, but from reading Badler’s story, it sounds like it’s not the only weird thing going on here. This story probably isn’t finished just quite yet.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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jeff davis
12 years ago

Funny. Orioles. Stupid. Haha. WS winners 2064.