Suk-min Yoon is a 27-year-old right-handed pitcher who intends to jump from the Korea Baseball Organization to MLB this offseason. Hyun-jin Ryu was the ace of KBO and had success in his first MLB season, but what can we expect from the second best pitcher out of Korea?
After bouncing between the rotation and bullpen for most of his career, Yoon had a breakout 2011 season, posting a 2.45 ERA, 9.3 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, and 0.52 HR/9 in 172 1/3 innings, winning the MVP award. Yoon's 2012 was excellent as well: a 3.12 ERA, 8.1 K/9, 1.9 BB/9, and 0.53 HR/9 in 153 frames. Check out all of his stats at MyKBO.net. Yoon has experience as a closer, so a relief role could be possible if necessary.
According to report two years ago from Yahoo's Jeff Passan, Yoon's fastball sat at 93 miles per hour and one scout deemed his change-up above average. Yoon has been represented for several years by Scott Boras, who told George A. King III of the New York Post, "He’s a 91 to 92 [mph] guy. He’s a good pitcher … not an overpowering arm." King says Boras sees Yoon as a Kyle Lohse type, though it's not clear if Boras or King drew the comparison. One source I spoke to feels Yoon has the potential for three above average pitches.
Yoon will pitch next year at age 27, meaning he's the youngest free agent starter available and one of few in his 20s.
As an international free agent, Yoon will not require a draft pick to sign. Additionally, unlike Ryu, Yoon is a free agent and will not require a posting fee.
Yoon dealt with a shoulder injury in 2013, about which not much is known publicly. Jee-ho Yoo of the Yonhap News Agency tells me the injury "seemed serious." Yoon made 11 starts with a 4.16 ERA, as well as 19 relief appearances with a 3.60 mark. Yoon's coaches asked him to close for the Kia Tigers in their time of need in August, prompting his move to the bullpen. At any rate, Yoon's 172 1/3 innings in 2011 was a career-high, so 30 big league starts would be a new level for him. The increased travel may have worn on Ryu this year and could affect Yoon as well. After an off year, it may have made sense to rebuild value in Korea, but Yoon wants to come over now.
Yoon has certainly been accessible to scouts over the years in Korea, and he has pitched in the 2008 Summer Olympics and the 2009 and 2013 World Baseball Classics. However, we haven't seen much in the way of scouting reports in the public arena yet, and it's unclear if he even rates as an MLB starter. One MLB executive I spoke to sees Yoon as a reliever.
Yoon is a single guy, and Yoo tells me the pitcher enjoys driving and fishing (and perhaps driving to go fishing). Yoo says Yoon is "not a rah-rah guy in the clubhouse," but in Korean sports culture age and seniority matter a great deal in determining the clubhouse leader. There was one maturity issue in 2010, when Yoon broke his right pinkie after punching his locker.
Yoon rumors have been light in the early going. In mid-October, Darren Wolfson of ESPN 1500 said the Twins would scout Yoon's showcase, but Boras later told King no showcase was happening. And while Boras intends to engage Yankees GM Brian Cashman about Yoon, there's no indication whether the team is interested. Along with the Twins, the Cubs, Rays, Royals, and Orioles are among the teams with Korean scouts, so they may have extra information on Yoon.
Of my contract predictions so far, I have the least confidence in this one, due to the lack of public information on Yoon. He's a bit of a wild card, but I'm going with a two-year, $10MM deal.
Thanks to Dan Kurtz of myKBO.net and Jee-ho Yoo of the Yonhap News Agency for insight.