Since 1994, there have been 23 Korean-born baseball players in the MLB. Today, only four remain playing in Ji-Man Choi (Tampa Bay), Shin-soo Choo (Texas), Jung Ho Kang (Pittsburgh), and Hyun-Jin Ryu (Toronto). Of those 23 players, none of them played a single game in a Royals uniform. However, Kansas City is hoping to change that in the coming years. In 2018, the Royals inked 17-year-old Korean prospect Woo-Young Jin out of Seoul, South Korea.
Jin emerged onto the national scene during the 2017 Power Showcase at Marlins Park in Miami when he was 16-years-old. In high school that same year, he topped 95-mph on the mound, played third base, and smacked seven home runs. Though he showed potential as a pitcher and positional player, the Royals took a liking to his arm instead of his bat. In 2019, he made his professional debut with a Royals affiliate.
(3:30-8:40) Footage of Jin throwing:
Kansas City assigned Jin to Rookie Ball as a pitcher for the Arizona League Royals in June. The 18-year-old appeared in 14 games and posted a 2.35 ERA with 56 strikeouts in 46 innings. Additionally, he collected two saves with a 1.00 WHIP and 30% K-rate, per Fangraphs. What stands out from Jin’s first year in Rookie Ball is his home run per nine stat. Despite inducing a fly ball 49.5% of the time, Jin allowed just three home runs in 46 innings (0.59 HR/9).
Before the Royals signed Jin, the right-hander put on muscle after working out “whenever he had time in the morning and evening”. One scout compared Jin’s 6-foot-2, 210-pound frame to seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens, who stood 6-foot-4, 205 pounds. Like Clemens, who leaned on his hard splitter once his fastball lost velocity, Jin’s best pitch in his arsenal is his splitter. It grades out as a 55/70 and deserved high praise on his scouting report on Fangraphs.
“(Jin’s) genie-like ability to make his splitter slide out from between his fingers without rotating is incredible to watch on the high speed camera. He also throws a lot of them. Jin needs to reshape his build and throw harder to be anything, but he’s young enough that it might happen.”
At such a young age, the Royals haven’t solidified a role for the pitching prospect. Although Jin spent 13 of his 14 outings coming out of the bullpen, he did start the final game he appeared in during the 2019 campaign. In that start, he tied a season-high of five innings, allowing just one run on four hits while striking out four. That line closed out a stretch of 10 appearances where Jin posted a 1.95 ERA in 32.1 IP with 38 strikeouts and 11 walks.
Jin currently ranks as the 43rd-best prospect in the Royals’ organization with a future value of 35+, according to Fangraphs. He is estimated to debut in 2024, putting him just over 23-years-old with the potential of becoming the first Korean-born player to play for Kansas City.
If Jin starts the 2020 season in Rookie Ball, it’s likely he’ll pitch alongside Kaito Yuki, an 18-year-old right-hander the Royals signed a month before Jin out of Tondabayashi, Japan. Kansas City signed Yuki at 16-years-old, which made him the youngest player signed to a major league team out of Japan. Scouts have drawn comparisons between Yuki and Cubs right-hander Yu Darvish, according to a report from a Japanese outlet that dubbed him “Darvish II”.
When Jin was signed in August of 2018, he expressed interest learning multiple languages to bond with players from different backgrounds.
“I think I can learn Chinese as a second language and get along with other Asian players,” Jin said. “For the rest of the time, I will also learn basic Spanish. Not only the players but also the coaches are from Latin America.”
As the two youngest pitchers on the AZL Royals, Jin (19) and Yuki (18) have the chance to build a bond as they make their way through the minor league ranks in pursuit of making club history.