Ji-Hwan Bae Gets a Small Taste of His Dream Today in Pirates’ Camp

BRADENTON, Fla. – Ji-Hwan Bae, who signed with the Pirates for around $1.25 M out of South Korea earlier this month, will get his first experience with the big league club today.

Bae is only 18 years old, and has a long way to go until he reaches the majors. He told Alan Saunders today that he will be assigned to the Gulf Coast League this year as he transitions to the United States. But the Pirates decided to bring him to big league camp today, like they do with many other minor leaguers, in order to give him some experience in Major League camp.

As previously reported, Bae signed with the Pirates after his initial agreement with the Atlanta Braves was voided, due to the Braves illegally trying to pay him beyond their $300,000 limit. He said today, via translator Bumyun Hahn, that the Pirates were the most active team after him. He had a hard time dealing with the situation with the Braves, but had comfort after a lot of teams showed interest.

Most players from Korea play in their professional league, and only make the jump to the majors when they are older and eligible. Bae is the rare exception, opting to make the jump before signing a professional contract in Korea. This came from a love of American baseball from a young age, and a desire to be challenged, as he said today.

“When I was small, I only watched Korean baseball,” Bae said through his translator. “Since [Shin-soo] Choo started playing for the Indians, I saw like a whole new world. My dream was becoming a big league player.”

Bae continued following baseball, including following Jung Ho Kang with the Pirates, as well as Hyun-Jin Ryu with the Dodgers, who is his favorite player. His favorite American player is Jose Altuve, which is fitting, as Bae is also a shorter middle infielder.

So far, Bae has been adjusting to life in minor league camp. He has been learning a little bit of English, along with some Spanish, in order to communicate with his teammates. He’s also getting used to baseball in the US.

“I’m trying to get used to different coaches and different baseball,” Bae said. “Mostly what I’m trying to focus on is there’s players from different countries, so I’ve been getting used to the different players from different countries.”

That should help him prepare for the GCL, as that level typically has players from all over the world making their first appearance in the US.

For today, Bae will get a small taste of his dream, getting a chance to play in big league camp for a day with the Pirates. After that, he will return to minor league camp, eventually Spring Training, and then the GCL, in order to start trying to make his way back to big league camp one day.