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Three pitchers in the KBO that could interest the Rays

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Including one former Rays farmhand!

South Korea v USA - WBSC Premier 12 Final
Kwang-hyun Kim
Photo by Masterpress/Getty Images

Around this time last year, I wrote about Merill Kelly as a potential player of interest for the Rays.

The team that got Kelly was his hometown team, Arizona, who got small achievements through their investment (183.0 IP, 4.42 ERA, 4.51 FIP, 2.0 fWAR). It’s not a noticeable performance, but it’s a good one considering his cheap contract (2 years/$5.5M (2019-20), plus 2021-22 options).

This offseason, there seems to be more MLB articles about players who played in Korea. MLB teams and their fans seem to think small invests for the moderate returns like Kelly could be beneficial. So, below I will introduce three KBO (Korean Baseball League) pitchers we could see at MLB level again.

The Rays situation is the same as last year: The 40-man roster is crowded, and the Rays should pay more attention to quality than quantity. But they are a team that can find a way to use anyone, if they can get a contributor at good prices. Overall, it is hard to say whether they are interested in these pitchers.

Josh Lindblom

2019 KBO: 2.50 ERA, 2.87 FIP, 194.0 IP, 24.5 K%, 3.8 BB%

Lindblom has dominated the league for years, and won the best pitcher award again this year. To compare his success in the KBO, Zack Greinke is the only MLB player with similar performances in innings pitched, as high a K%, and as low a BB%.

Earlier this month, the Athletic listed the Rays as one of about 10 teams interested in Lindblom, who will be entering his age-33 season.

Pitching Repertoire (2019) : FB 90.3mph (32.6%), CT/SL 85.5mph (33.4%), SF 82.9mph (13.2%), SI 59.5mph (8.9%), CB 73.1mph (7.8%),

Although the velocity is below average, the spin rate is known to be quality (around 2,600 rpm). His SL/SF combo could be a decent option for MLB level hitter, and he handle LHB well (vs LHB OPS .537, vs RHB OPS .600).

Compared with Kelly, well, Kelly’s stuff is better, and I would also like to mention that Lindblom played in a more pitching-friendly environment (in both the ball and ballpark) than Kelly. But, in terms of results, Lindblom found more success than Kelly.

You can find some predictions about him in the Fangraphs Top-50 and on MLBTR.

Homin’s Grades for Josh Lindblom:

  • Fastball: 45
  • Cutter/Slider: 50
  • Splitter: 50
  • Curveball: 40
  • FV as SP: 45
  • FV as RP: 45

***

Kwang-hyun Kim

2019 KBO : 2.51 ERA, 3.01 FIP, 190.1 IP, 22.9 K%, 4.8 BB%

Major League teams seem more interested in Kwang-hyun Kim. About 16 MLB teams scouted Kim. A Media says that at least one team watched all games of him and Many teams have been gathering information about him for years. Among them, the Rays is missing.

The Rays have a scout in Korea and are known to have scouted Lindblom, but it was not reported by the local media that they recently scouted Kim — although I don’t think that is a reasonable story. The Rays have also scouted Kim in the past. They may have lost interest in him for some reason, but he is interesting option for MLB teams.

Pitching Repertoire: FB 91.3mph (39.1%), SL 84.9mph (37.0%), SF 79.4mph (14.5%), CB 69.9mph (9.5%)

Kim’s fastball should be average and the slider likely above-average at the MLB level. There was some concern about his command and limitation of pitching repertoire early in his career, but he recently added a good splitter and has used slow a curveball efficiently.

In the past, he had been rated as a two-pitch RP and San Diego offered him a low posting amount. In 2019, many teams regard him as a SP, but some will still think he could be better as a RP than SP as he enters his age-32 season.

This Korean pitcher is hard to judge, and his status is more complicated because he needs his team’s permission to go to the MLB (his contract is not expired yet). But there are some who believe the team will post him this offseason. There is a complicated background, but fundamentally, I believe he has 50:50 odds at finding major league success.

You can also find some predictions about him in the Fangraphs Top-50 and on MLBTR.

Homin’s Grades for Kwang-hyun Kim:

  • Fastball: 50
  • Cutter/Slider: 55
  • Splitter: 45
  • Curveball: 45
  • FV as SP: 45
  • FV as RP: 50

***

Angel Sanchez

2019 KBO: 2.62 ERA, 2.57 FIP, 165.0 IP, 22.1 K%, 6.3 BB%

Sanchez was mentioned in a recent report from mlb.com:

Angel Sanchez, RHP, SK Wyverns: Sanchez, who turns 30 at the end of November, was Kim’s right-handed counterpart atop the SK Wyverns rotation this year. Sanchez, the former Pirates reliever, has started in KBO for each of the last two seasons and is a free agent following a breakout 2019 in which he went 17-5 with a 2.62 ERA and 148 strikeouts in 165 innings.

In fact, Sanchez has been on Tampa Bay’s radar for a while. He was claimed by Rays from Marlins, June 13, 2014 and claimed by White Sox again, July 2, 2014 from the Rays.

Pitching Repertoire: FB 93.8mph(48.5%), CB 83.2mph(20.7%), SF 86.8mph(17.3%), SL 89.0mph(12.2%),

He is less mentioned than the two pitchers above, but I think Sanchez is as good a player as they are. He records a 93.8 mph as a starter (peak 97.8mph), it is fastest one among KBO SP qualifiers. That is also a good velocity by Major League standards.

In affiliate leagues, he was considered a player who has a good stuff, but lacked a pitching strategy. He has matured as a pitcher by throwing a lot of innings in South Korea and appears ready to return to the United States for his age-30 season.

Sanchez could be less of a finished product than the two pitchers above; however, he is younger and earns less money ($720,000).

Judging from his physical condition and mechanics, he could be a multi-inning RP at the MLB level. He also still has 2 minor league options remaining, which could help the Rays to utilize him flexibly. Overall, he is comparable to Andrew Kittredge.

Homin’s grades for Angel Sanchez:

  • Fastball: 55
  • Cutter/Slider: 40
  • Curveball: 45
  • FV as SP: 40
  • FV as RP: 45

***

The Japanese baseball league has also supplied decent players to MLB. Next time, I will write about them.