Name: Jae Yun Kim
Pronunciation: Jay Yoon Kim
High School: Whi-Moon (Seoul, South Korea)
Weight: 190 lbs
Background: Chad MacDonald, assistant director of scouting, and Mack Hayashi, director of Pacific Rim operations, lobbied hard for general manager Josh Byrnes to take a chance on Jae Yun Kim. Their bid proved successful, as Kim received a signing bonus reported in the $150,00-$210,000 range to join the Arizona Diamondbacks organization.
MacDonald first spotted Kim during the summer AAA World Junior Championships in Edmonton. Hayashi was then able to use his connections to fly Kim into the States and allow him to participate in the Instructional League workouts for five days - no small feat, given that Korea isn't thrilled about major league teams swiping some of their top players. The move was anticipated, however; Kim wasn't selected in the most recent phase of the Korean draft due to concerns that he would choose to sign with a major league ballclub.
The fact that he went to the D-backs comes as a surprise, however. Arizona hadn't really made a big splash in Korean markets since inking Byung-Hyun Kim (no relation) out of Gwangju, South Korea back in 1999. The organization is beginning to realize, however, that Venezuela and the Dominican Republic are becoming oversaturated with scouts from major league teams and that there are some real diamonds to be had in other, more obscure areas.
"The game is becoming more global," declared MacDonald. "It's becoming harder to find players here."
Once Jae Yun Kim showcased his skills during his brief audition at Instructs, the Diamondbacks got very excited. They don't believe that he would have lasted long into the third round had he been eligible for the major league draft in June.
Makeup: Going into those five days in the Instructional League, the Diamondbacks already had a good idea of what Kim could do physically, but they needed to know what he brought to the table mentally and emotionally. The culture shock for a foreign player transitioning to life in the States can be extreme. Latin players at least have a support group of teammates from their DSL days and a coach or two at every level who is fluent in Spanish to help them along.
Kim won't have that luxury as the only Korean in the Diamondbacks' system (although the Diamondbacks are hoping that this signing snowballs into an increased emphasis on scouting and obtaining prospects from the Pacific Rim). He is already enrolled in English classes and has made a commitment to mastering the language, though he still has a long way to go in that regard. That will obviously prove a key to his future success, as he will need to work closely with pitchers throughout his pro career.
Batting and Power: The Diamondbacks signed Kim more for his prowess behind the plate than his ability with the stick, but they still believe that he can become a solid offensive player at the major league level.
"It's not a swing that gives you goose bumps," MacDonald said candidly. "He's not going to be a plus-hitter, but he's not going to be below average."
Although his swing has some holes, MacDonald assured us that there is a good rhythm to it. His youth gives him time to work on any shortcomings in the swing, and his natural strength and athleticism could pick up some of the mechanical slack. A .260-.270 hitter with 15 homers and plenty of doubles power is a reasonable projection for Kim.
Defense: This is what earned Kim his contract. He is a plus defender already: strong, flexible, agile, and durable. Again, he'll need to work on the social aspect of handling an English (or Spanish) speaking pitching staff and learn how to call a game. But in terms of the catch and throw aspects of the position, Kim really stands out.
"I was very impressed with Kim's catching and throwing ability. He has a chance to be [an] above average catcher and thrower," praised catching coordinator Bob Didier. "He is one of the most polished 18-year old catchers I've ever seen."
"He has a good body center behind the plate," said MacDonald, adding that he has a plus-arm, though not plus-plus. Kim's athleticism allows him to pounce on bunt attempts, flag down pop flies, and chase after any pitches that get by him. He already does a good job of keeping pitches in front of him by keeping his shoulders square.
Major League Clone: Kurt Suzuki
Prediction: It's way too early to predict with much accuracy, but Kim looks like he should blossom into a solid major league catcher. There is a risk that he won't be able to handle the transitions in climate, language, and culture that await him, but there is also the possibility that the Diamondbacks' developmental staff can refine his size and athleticism into the makings of a star catcher.
Timetable: Kim won't actually graduate from high school until February. He should arrive in Tucson in time for spring training and remain in extended spring training until the short-season affiliates begin play. After a stint with either Missoula or Yakima, he will almost certainly play in next fall's Instructional League, this time for the entire three weeks. At that point, we'll have a much better idea of how quickly this youngster can ascend through the system.
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