Sunday, March 3, 2019

21 years of Korean Pirates.


Pitching prospect Byung-il Kim, (김병일) via 중앙일보.

Long before the Pittsburgh Pirates first started signing Asian prospects like Jung-ho Kang, Ji-hwan Bae, and Jin-de Jhang a few years ago, there have been some interesting intersections between the Pirates and Asian baseball. In 1965, the Pirates were set to tour Japan but the trip was cancelled that June, ostensibly due to the Pirates' "inferior drawing power" but in reality due to stalled contract negotiations with a Japanese baseball player. In 1975, the Pirates played, and lost to, the reigning Central League champion out of Nagoya, the Chunichi Dragons, who joined Pittsburgh in spring training that year. And, in the 1990s, the Pirates had a working agreement with one of the top pro teams in South Korea.

On March 3, 1998, the Pirates and the Hyundai Unicorns, then based in Incheon, signed a professional agreement to exchange personnel. That year three Korean players and a coach joined the Pirates system: 22-year-old pitchers Moon Chang-hwan (문창환) and Ko Ho-bong (고호봉) and the recently-retired Yun Deog-kyu (윤덕규), the latter as a minor-league coach. Both pitchers played for the Pirates' Gulf League affiliate in Bradenton that summer, each appearing in 13 out of the team's 60 games: Moon went 1-0 in relief appearances and Ko 2-3.

On March 3 the Post-Gazette had the first and only substantial write-up on the agreement.
The Pirates also announced they've signed Unicorn pitchers Ho Bang Go and Chang Hwan Moon to minor-league contracts. Both are No. 1 draft picks of the Korean team.

Go and Moon are in the Pirates' minor-league camp and probably will remain in Florida in the Extended Spring Training program before joining a minor-league team in June.

"They'll be placed wherever they can be effective and learn," said John Sirignano, the Pirates' assistant general manager.

Sirignano said both pitchers will return to the Unicorns after August, but he anticipates the possibility of the Pirates signing other Korean players who will stay in their minor-league system.

"This gives us inroads into Korea," he said. "This will enable us to make a presence in an area that's going to be a hotbed."
Neither Moon nor Ko / Go would stay in the Pirates' system, but that fall they would sign another prospect, pitcher Byung-il Kim (김병일).



Kim signed for roughly $400,000 in November 1998, though he did not appear at all in the Pirates' system. A 2015 Joong-ang Ilbo article says he was late arriving to spring training the following February because of his college's graduation. A series of shoulder injuries kept him off the field until he was back in Korea and out of baseball two years later.

The Pirates wouldn't have a Korean player in the Major Leagues until Chan-ho Park, who set the record for most wins by an Asian-born player in 2010 while pitching for Pittsburgh. There have only been two Korean players on the team, with Jung-ho Kang---a former Hyundai Unicorn---being the second.