Name: Yung-Chi Chen
How Acquired: Claimed off of waivers by the Oakland A's from the Seattle Mariners
Yung-Chi Chen was signed by the Seattle Mariners out of Kaohsiung County, Taiwan, in January 2004. Chen caught the eye of Seattle scouts while competing for Taiwan in Olympic qualifying games, where he hit .405 against the US. Before signing with Seattle, Chen had competed with the Taiwan National Sports Academy. He was only 20 when he signed with Seattle.
The middle infielder was sent to short-season Everett of the Northwest League, where he quickly made a strong impression. In 200 at-bats spread over 49 games, Chen hit an even .300 with 25 stolen bases in 28 chances. He was rated one of the top prospects in the Northwest League at the end of that season.
In 2005, Chen was sent to the Midwest League, where he held his own offensively in a difficult league for hitters. In 121 games, he hit .292 with 80 RBIs and 15 stolen bases. He followed that campaign with another strong showing in 2006, hitting .342 with an 866 OPS and 21 stolen bases in 67 games with High-A Inland Empire and .295 with an 801 OPS in 40 games for Double-A San Antonio. The only blemish on Chen's 2006 season was a left shoulder injury that required surgery in July and cost him more than 30 games.
Before the start of the 2006 regular season, Chen had the honor of competing in the inaugural World Baseball Classic as a member of the Taiwan team. He hit well against some of the world's best players, finishing third amongst all WBC participants in doubles. Chen also competed in the MLB All-Star Futures Game as part of Team World in July 2006. He continued to shine after the end of the 2006 season on a big stage, competing in the Intercontinental Cup and the Asian Games.
Needless to say, Chen was one of the Mariners' brightest prospects heading into the 2007 season. Unfortunately, his season never got off the ground. Only five games into the season, Chen re-injured the left shoulder that he had dislocated in 2006. He would miss the rest of the season.
Chen made up for some of that lost time during the 2007 Arizona Fall League, where he hit .339 and was named one of the league's top-10 surprises. He was added to the Mariners' 40-man roster before the start of the 2008 season.
Things weren't much better for Chen health-wise in 2008. He injured his knee after only 69 games and missed the rest of the season. Chen wasn't playing particularly well at the time of the injury, either. In his first extended taste of Triple-A baseball, Chen managed only a .249 average and a 638 OPS.
With the injuries in consecutive seasons, Chen lost his momentum within the Mariners' organization. He was dropped from the 40-man roster in November and claimed shortly thereafter by the A's.
With the exception of the 2008 season, Chen has always been a strong hitter for average in the minor leagues. He has a career mark of .296 in more than 1,400 at-bats. He doesn't walk a lot (115 walks in his career), but he has excellent bat control, striking only 211 times throughout his career.
Chen isn't much of a hitter for power, however. He tends to slap the ball into the gaps and look to go the other way. On occasion, he can flash some surprising power, but he has only homered 21 times in 354 career games.
Although Chen was first signed as a shortstop, he has seen the majority of his time in the minor leagues at second base. He has seen the second most amount of time at third base. At second, Chen has rated as an average defender. He makes most of the plays that he should, but he doesn't have above-average range. The left-shoulder injury doesn't impact his throwing, but it could have some impact on his ability to go to his left if it isn't 100 percent.
Chen has above-average speed and good instincts on the base-paths, which has translated to a better than 75 percent success rate on stolen bases during his career. However, it isn't clear how his speed will be effected by the knee injury he sustained last season.
Chances of Making the Team
The A's figure to have plenty of competition for playing time in the infield this spring. Three of the A's top-five infielders are coming off of surgeries (Mark Ellis, Eric Chavez and Daric Barton) and two others are coming off of down seasons at the plate (Bobby Crosby and Jack Hannahan). The A's may still bring in another veteran infielder before the start of spring training, but as of right now, there figures to be competition for both the starting shortstop spot and the back-up middle infielder slots.
With Ellis' health somewhat uncertain heading into spring training, the A's may carry two back-up infielders on their Opening Day roster rather than the standard one. That would represent Chen's best opportunity to make the team out of spring training.
Chen will have plenty of competition for one of those spots, however. In addition to Chen, Crosby and Hannahan, the A's will have Gregorio Petit, Cliff Pennington, Eric Patterson, Jeff Baisley and Joe Dillon in camp competing for a spot on the roster as middle or back-up infielders. Petit, Pennington, Patterson, Baisley and Dillon – unlike Chen – all have major league experience. In addition, the A's will have prospects Corey Wimberly (recently acquired from Colorado) and Adrian Cardenas in camp looking for reps in the middle infield.
Wimberly and Cardenas are long-shots to make the team this spring, as neither has played at the Triple-A level. The others, however, all have legitimate chances to make the team out of spring training.
Chen will be dealing with a couple of disadvantages coming into camp. One, he will working off the rust after missing the second half of the 2008 season with a knee injury. Secondly, he offers the A's less defensive flexibility than many of the other infielders in camp. Crosby can only play short, but Pennington and Petit can all play second, third and short, while Hannahan and Patterson can play second, third and the outfield. Dillon can play second, third, short and the outfield, Baisley can handle third and first, and Ellis can play second and first. Chen is limited to second and third. Pennington is the only switch-hitting infielder in the A's camp. Chen, Dillon, Ellis, Crosby, Baisley and Petit are all right-handed hitters, while Patterson and Hannahan are left-handed hitters.
Speed-wise, assuming he is healthy, Chen ranks behind Pennington, Patterson and Wimberly in terms of ability to steal bases. He is ahead of Crosby, Ellis, Hannahan, Baisley and Dillon, however. With the exception of prospects Cardenas and Wimberly, Dillon is the only infielder in the A's camp not on the 40-man roster.
The A's will most likely be looking for a back-up infielder that is better than average and versatile defensively, handles the bat well and can steal a base or two. When healthy, Chen meets most of those criteria, but he will need his health to have any shot of breaking camp with the big league club. Given the number infielders on the A's 40-man roster, Chen will need a strong spring and a good start to the 2009 regular season to see any time with the A's at any point in 2009.
Did You Know?
* Chen was the youngest player on the Taiwan national team for the 2002 Intercontinental Cup.
* Chen had the distinction of being the first player to ever hit a grand slam in the WBC, hitting it against Team China.
* Chen won a gold medal in the Asian Games and was named the best second baseman in the Intercontinental Cup competition.
On The Bubble: Yung-Chi Chen, IF
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