(ATTN: ADDS comments in paras 8-9, 17-19)
By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Sept. 21 (Yonhap) — A high school left-hander was selected first overall in the annual South Korean baseball draft on Monday.
The Lotte Giants of the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) chose Kim Jin-wook, senior at Gangneung High School, with the first pick of the annual amateur draft.
In line with social distancing measures in place during the coronavirus pandemic, the draft was held in a virtual format, with the room set up inside a Seoul hotel connected online with front offices of 10 KBO clubs.
Kim pitched his school to the President’s Cup National High School Baseball Tournament title last month, giving Gangneung its first national championship. Kim was named both the MVP and the Best Pitcher at the tournament.
In June, Kim led Gangneung to the final at another major national competition, the Golden Lion National High School Baseball Tournament, but the team finished runner-up to Gimhae High School. Kim threw 7 1/3 innings and struck out 11 in relief.
In 2020, Kim has pitched to a 1.70 ERA and a 4-1 record in 10 appearances covering 36 2/3 innings. He has struck out 55 and walked eight.
Last year, in his second year of high school, Kim went 11-1 with a 1.58 ERA in 21 appearances, with 132 strikeouts and 18 walks in 91 innings. He won the annual Choi Dong-won Award, given to the country’s best pitchers in amateur and pro ranks, in the high school category.
Kim Pung-cheol, the Giants’ head of scouting, said Kim Jin-wook is as complete a pitcher as they could find, and that he could be a valuable piece either in the starting rotation or in the bullpen.
“He may not blow you away with his fastball velocity, but it’s an area he can improve with systematic training,” the scout added.
The draft was held in the reverse order of the 2019 regular season records.
With the No. 2 pick, the Hanwha Eagles selected Yushin High School left-hander Kim Gi-jung. The Samsung Lions also chose a pitcher with the third overall pick, Lee Jae-hee, a Daejeon High School right-hander.
The Kia Tigers drafted Korea University right-hander Park Geon-woo with the fourth pick. The KT Wiz rounded out the top five with another collegiate player, Wonkwang University infielder Kwon Dong-jin.
The next five players were all high school players: Yushin High School infielder Kim Joo-won (NC Dinos), Sekwang High School infielder Lee young-bin (LG Twins), Gwangju Jeil High School catcher Cho Hyoung-woo (SK Wyverns), Shinil High School infielder Kim Hwi-jib (Kiwoom Heroes) and Sunrin Internet High School right-hander Kim Dong-joo (Doosan Bears).
The Giants had the 11th overall pick in the snake format, and they chose Duksoo High School infielder Na Seung-yeop.
Na, regarded as the top infield prospect in this year’s class, announced last month he was going to sign with a major league club, reportedly the Minnesota Twins. But with no deal in place yet, the Giants went ahead and drafted him.
Monday’s draft followed the territorial draft from August. Back then, teams could each select one amateur from their areas, though the bottom three clubs from the 2019 season were allowed to select out-of-town talent. The Giants, based in Busan, had their eyes on Na, whose school is in Seoul, for that draft. They chose another player instead and waited until the second round on Monday to select Na, who may not even sign with the Giants.
Na’s father, Na Hee-cheol, thanked the Giants for selecting his son but said Seung-yeop still wants to play in the United States.
“We’ve already made a verbal commitment with a major league club,” the senior Na said. “I’ll talk with him about his future again since he was drafted by Lotte, but his desire to play in America hasn’t wavered.”
The Giants said they knew of the risks of drafting Na, but added, “Considering his talent, we felt it was well worth selecting him in the second round even if we end up losing that pick.”