Right-handers Drew Rucinski and Wes Parsons have re-signed with the NC Dinos of the Korea Baseball Organization for the 2022 season, reports Jee-ho Yoo of South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency. Rucinski will be guaranteed $1.9MM with another $100K of incentives available, tying him for the second-largest salary of any foreign player in the KBO, per Yoo. Parsons, meanwhile, receives $550K in guarantees, plus another $250K of available incentives.
After totaling 54 innings in a nondescript big league career that included stops with the Angels (2014-15), Twins (2017) and Marlins (2018), Rucinski has emerged as one of the top arms in the KBO. He’s started exactly 30 games in each of the past three seasons, averaging 179 2/3 frames per year and posting consecutive ERAs of 3.05, 3.05 and 3.17 from 2019-21. This past season, Rucinski posted the highest strikeout rate (23.5%) and ground-ball rate (a massive 67.8%) of his KBO career. His 7.3% walk rate was strong as well, and he yielded just 12 homers on the year (0.60 HR/9).
Rucinski will turn 33 next week and would be 34 by the time he could plausibly pitch in the Majors again, but given his standout work in the KBO and his eye-popping ground-ball rates, it’s feasible that he could draw MLB interest on next offseason’s market. He’s now racked up a total of 539 innings with a 3.09 ERA, a 20.5% strikeout rate and a 6.9% ground-ball rate during his time in the KBO. Batted-ball data for Rucinski’s first season in South Korea isn’t publicly available, but last year’s ground-ball rate was no fluke; he sat a 63.8% in 2020 and has a combined 65.7% mark over the past two seasons. At the very least, one would imagine that next winter, in a more stable free-agent climate, Rucinski could pique the interest of big league teams with strong infield defenses.
As he enters his fourth season in the KBO, Rucinski has now guaranteed himself $5.7MM over a four-year term in Korea (not including any of the incentives in his prior deals or this upcoming contract). For an undrafted player who had three stints with the independent Rockford RiverHawks of the Frontier League before even finding consistent minor league work, it’s a fairly remarkable journey — and an encouraging tale for players who continue to grind through minimal pay on the minor league and indie circuits.
As for Parsons, who turned 29 back in September, he was also an undrafted minor league free agent who now finds himself on a similar trajectory. His first two contracts in the KBO have been more modest than those of Rucinski, but he’s secured himself more than a million dollars in total after a seven-year minor league journey netted him just 39 2/3 innings in the Majors with the Braves. Parsons tallied 133 innings during his first season with the Dinos in 2021, pitching to a 3.72 ERA with a 25.6% strikeout rate, a 10.9% walk rate and an excellent 64.3% ground-ball rate of his own.