It all started with the signing of South Korean infielder Ji-hwan Bae for a seven-figure deal in 2018.
Since then, the Pittsburgh Pirates have been busy on the continent of Asia.
Bae made his Major League debut in September. The Pirates have added four other higher profile players from Asia in the years since, including the recent big addition of Korean right-handed pitcher Jun-Seok Shim.
Shim is a big 18-year-old pitcher, who throws hard and has a four-pitch mix of all solid or plus offerings. We have a scouting report of him, along with several other recent signings. He’s going to be an exciting prospect to follow this season, especially once we can get a first look at him in game action, which is currently limited.
In addition to Bae and Shim, the Pirates have added three other players from Asia.
In 2019, the Pirates added Taiwanese shortstop Tsung-Che Cheng for $380,000. He had an outstanding season with Bradenton, which earned him postseason honors. Cheng led the league in runs and triples, while finishing top six in five other categories. He’s also got great speed and did nice work on defense.
Po-Yu Chen is a right handed pitcher from Taiwan who signed for seven figures in 2020. He looked outstanding at times last year with Bradenton. The stats don’t tell the whole story. His pitches rate well, as you can see here in Anthony Murphy’s breakdown of the best off-speed pitches and breaking pitches in the system.
Last year, the Pirates started the signing period by adding right-handed pitcher Hung-Leng Chang for $500,000 out of Taiwan. Chang was only in the Florida Complex League this past year, and he saw somewhat limited work. He had some hiccups, but the live reports were good, and you have to like his 27:8 SO/BB ratio in 22.2 innings. He came to the Pirates with a very lanky frame, so part of his work in his first year was just getting stronger/filling out.
The early signings look promising. Bae has a chance to be a big part of the 2023 Pirates and beyond. The rest of the group will rely on their development this season to create their own path to the majors.
The best part of these high profile signings seems to be that the Pirates have firmly established themselves as a major player in the area. At this point you almost have to think that they are going to make another splash at the start of the 2024 international signing period.
I spoke with Max Kwan, who is the Pirates Director of Player Personnel, about their increased focus in Asia.
“In an acquisition, it never hurts to have players from the same country, especially from non-Spanish and English speaking countries,” Kwan said. “For most families, that is a driving factor deciding if they want to come to the U.S., and if so, which organization they entrust their development in.”
The Pirates have been adjusting their development culture and systems over the last few years, while putting a heavier focus into the Asian markets. All of these high profile signings only increase their presence to allow them to add future top prospects.
“We are unique in that we are empowered to cover the entire globe and turn over every stone,” Kwan said. “And furthermore, we are greatly supported and dedicated in providing an environment for all cultures to positively affect players on and off the field.”
The Pirates continue to land higher profile prospects in Asia, but they’re not just expanding to one market. The team also signed a right-handed pitcher from Uganda this week, after previously establishing a strong presence in Africa with Gift Ngoepe.
They aren’t just resting on expanding to one market, when there are so many other untapped markets around the world to cover.
THIS WEEK ON PIRATES PROSPECTS
John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.
When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.