Suk-Min Yoon is a right-handed starting pitcher for the Kia Tigers of the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO). He recently completed his ninth season in the KBO. Yoon has been one of premier pitchers in South Korea since he entered the KBO in 2005. He recently came to the United States and plans to hold a showcase of his skills for interested MLB teams. Yoon is currently under contract with the Tigers, but will become a free agent after this season. He has previously stated his intention to play in the MLB. Following an outstanding 2011 season, he hired super-agent Scott Boras. At that time, Yoon was still under contract, so there was speculation he would come to MLB via the Posting System. However, the Kia Tigers declined to post him, saying they needed Yoon to compete for a championship. This forced him to return to the KBO. His agent, Scott Boras also represented former KBO star and current Dodgers’ starting pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu during his move to the United States in 2012.
Career in South Korea
Yoon was born on July 24, 1986 (Age: 27) in Seoul, South Korea. He is tall with a slender frame, standing 6’ 0” and weighing 197 lbs. He was selected out of Ya-Top High School in the second round of the 2005 KBO draft by the Kia Tigers. He made his KBO debut on April 2, 2005. Yoon has spent his entire career (2005-Present) with the Tigers. During his KBO career, he has won numerous awards including the 2011 MVP, 2011 pitching triple-crown, 2008 and 2011 ERA titles, 2011 win title, and 2011 strikeout title. He is a three-time KBO All-Star (2008-09, 11).
His success in the KBO led to his inclusion on the Korean National team. His international experience pitching for team Korea includes: the 2006 and 2010 Asian Games, 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, and the 2009 and 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Below are Yoon’s KBO career statistics (courtesy of MyKBO.net):
- 2005: 3-4, 4.29 ERA, 53 G, 84 IP, 49 K, 1.476 WHIP
- 2006: 5-6, 2.28 ERA, 63 G, 94.2 IP, 75 K, 1.141 WHIP
- 2007: 7-18, 3.78 ERA, 28 G, 162 IP, 104 K, 1.358 WHIP
- 2008: 14-5, 2.33 ERA, 24 G, 154.2 IP, 119 K, 1.054 WHIP
- 2009: 9-4, 3.46 ERA, 27 G, 199.2 IP, 117 K, 1.287 WHIP
- 2010: 6-3, 3.83 ERA, 23 G, 101 IP, 94 K, 1.297 WHIP
- 2011: 17-5, 2.45 ERA, 27 G, 172.2 IP, 178 K, 1.048 WHIP
- 2012: 9-8, 3.12 ERA, 28 G, 153 IP, 137 K, 1.000 WHIP
- 2013: 3-6, 4.00 ERA, 30 G, 87.2 IP, 76 K, 1.357 WHIP
- Career: 73-59, 3.19 ERA, 303 G, 1129 IP, 949 K, 1.198 WHIP
Yoon began his career in the Kia Tigers bullpen. His statistics from 2005 to 2006 show his steady improvement after a difficult rookie season. He became part of the Tigers starting rotation in 2007. Although he posted a respectable ERA, a lack of run support led to a KBO high 18 loss season. The 2008 season was a breakout year for Yoon. He posted the lowest ERA in the KBO and won 14 games. He stepped back into the bullpen to start the 2009 season because of an injury to then Tigers’ closer Han-Ki Joo. Yoon saved seven games before returning to the starting rotation. He then spent a month on the disabled list with a shoulder injury, returning for the remainder of the season in July. He helped lead the Tigers to the KBO championship, where they defeated the SK Wyverns in the 2009 Korean Series.
2010 was a difficult year for Yoon. Frustrated by a lack of run support and an inconsistent bullpen, Yoon struck a locker with his hand following a difficult loss, breaking his pinky. He missed six weeks and was placed in the bullpen upon his return. His troubles grew deeper after he hit two batters, causing them injury. The built up guilt he felt from his injury and those he caused to others led to him being briefly hospitalized with depression and a panic disorder. Despite all the difficulties he faced, he still posted a respectable 3.83 ERA but had only six wins on the season. He made a remarkable comeback in 2011, having what has been so far the most successful season of his professional career. He led the league in ERA, wins, and strikeouts to capture the pitching triple-crown. He was also named the MVP. In 2012, Yoon was unable to duplicate his success from the previous season. His ERA was the eighth best in the KBO and he posted a career best WHIP, but a lack of run support led to just nine wins on the season.
Yoon’s 2013 season was one with mixed results. He began the season on a minor league rehab assignment, due to a recurring problem with his shoulder. Before the start of the 2013 season, Yoon pitched for team Korea at the 2013 WBC. This may have been a contributing factor to discomfort in his shoulder, which is an injury that has plagued him on and off since he pitched in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Upon his return from injury in May, he was placed in the bullpen. Yoon eventually returned to the starting rotation but his performance was inconsistent. He made 30 total appearances on the season, 19 in relief and 11 starts. His splits as a starter and reliever in 2013 are below (courtesy of MyKBO.net):
- Starter: 1-5, 4.16 ERA, 11 G, 62.2 IP, 50 K, .288 BAA, 1.388 WHIP
- Reliever: 2-1, 3.60 ERA, 19 G, 7 SV, 2 HLD, 25 IP, 26 K, .240 BAA, 1.280 WHIP
Scouting reports place Yoon’s average fastball velocity between 91-92 mph; noting that he will not be an overpowering pitcher in MLB. Yoon is said to throw six pitches, but mainly relies on a hard-breaking slider and an above-average change-up as his out pitches.
Interest from MLB Teams
Due to his battles with injury and a sub-par 2013 season, some reports believe Yoon may be made a reliever in the MLB. But Yoon himself continues to express high hopes of becoming a starter. Yoon’s recent struggles may force him to take a shorter deal at a lower price and then prove himself upon coming to MLB.
Yoon’s case is similar to that of Hisashi Iwakuma, a starting pitcher for the Seattle Mariners. Iwakuma was a pitcher in Japan’s NPB, who was originally posted following the 2010 season. However, he was unable reach a deal with the Oakland Athletics, who had submitted the winning bid of $19.1 million. This prompted his return to the NPB. The next season, Iwakuma experienced an inconsistent season hampered by injury, similar to what Yoon experienced this season. Iwakuma saw his market value plummet, which then forced him to accept a lower-value one-year, $1.5 million deal to join the Seattle Mariners as a free agent in 2012.
Because of the uncertainty surrounding his health and ability, Iwakuma was placed in the Mariners bullpen to start his first MLB season in 2012. Over the first three months of the season, he demonstrated his ability to the team and was moved into the starting rotation in July of that year. He finished the season with 30 total appearances (16 starts, 14 relief), going 9-5 with a 3.16 ERA, 101 K in 125.1 IP. Iwakuma’s performance in 2012 earned him a place in the starting rotation and a contract extension. The Mariners signed him to a two-year $14 million contract extension with a $7 million club option for a third year.
There have been two MLB teams mentioned in connection to Yoon, the New York Yankees and the Minnesota Twins. The Yankees, who are also rumored to be very interested in NPB standout Masahiro Tanaka, are looking to rebuild a pitching staff following the retirement of Andy Pettitte and uncertainty surrounding their other starters. Agent Scott Boras said “he will soon be meeting with Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman to discuss Yoon.”
The Twins have confirmed their interest in Yoon to the media and said they will send scouts to his upcoming pitching showcase to evaluate him. The Twins are not expected to lose any starters heading into next season but are in need of more consistency in the rotation. They had 11 different players make starts this season, eight of whom posted ERA’s over 5.19.
MLB has cleared the way for its teams to negotiate with Yoon by confirming his pending availability with the KBO. MLB recently tendered an official status check with the KBO and was told Yoon will indeed become a free agent following the end of their post-season. The uncertainty surrounding Yoon’s ability and health may limit the market for his services. However, if he is able to secure a deal to join a MLB team, he will get the chance to prove his true worth, just as many other pitchers from Asia have done before him.
Photo Credit: Joongangdaily.com
Reference: baseball-reference.com, daum.net, MLBTraderumors.com, MyKBO.net, SBNation.com, GlobalPost.com, FantasyCPR.com, Riveraveblues.com, TheBaseballCube.com