Posted : 2013-12-25 16:52
Updated : 2013-12-25 16:52

Diminished Yoon faces murky future

Gone are the days when Kia Tigers pitcher Yoon Suk-min, left, was considered a comparable player to Los Angeles Dodgers' Ryu Hyun-jin. Seeking a career in Major League Baseball (MLB), Yoon left for the United States in October to try out for several American teams. He returned to Korea last Saturday without a contract. After a shoulder injury, Yoon has been struggling to draw interest from the MLB. / Yonhap

By Baek Byung-yeul

It was just two years ago when Yoon Suk-min, then the ace of the Kia Tigers, seemed destined for a solid career in Major League Baseball. But now diminished after a shoulder injury, the 27-year-old has been struggling to generate interest from world baseball's highest stage.

Seeking a career in the majors, Yoon left for the United States in October to try out for several American clubs. He returned to Korea quietly last Saturday and appears to be no closer to landing a contract than he was 40 days ago.

"I came back home to spend the holiday season with my family and friends," the soft-spoken Yoon told reporters.

"My dream remains to play in the major leagues. I have entrusted all negotiations to my agent."

That happens to be Scott Boras, the baseball super-agent who also represents Korean major league standouts Choo Shin-soo and Ryu Hyun-jin. Boras, involved in many of the biggest contracts in the history of baseball, is probably capable of selling fire in hell. Finding a taker for Yoon, however, has been a challenge even for him.

Yoon has been a stellar pitcher in his prime. His dual ability to miss bats and induce groundballs had many scouts projecting a solid career in the majors. It was Yoon, not Ryu, who was Korea's best pitcher during the country's impressive 2009 World Baseball Classic run. He went 17-5 with a 2.45 earned run average (ERA) with the Tigers in 2011, when he was named as the league's MVP for the regular season.

However, it also seems likely that the world has already seen the best of Yoon.

After starting Korea's first game in this year's World Baseball Classic in March, Yoon sustained a shoulder injury that forced him to miss the start of the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) regular season. He made his season debut for the Tigers as a reliever in May, but was clearly a diminished pitcher. He managed only 87 innings and his ERA soared over 4.00. His number of strikeouts per nine innings dropped from nine in 2012 to seven in 2013.

Yoon's fastball, which had been comfortably between the late-140 to the early-150 kilometer-per-hour range before the injury, was clocked in the low-to-mid 140s this year. His slider, once rated by major league scouts as an above-average pitch, didn't have the same movement.

Granted, there is also a possibility that Yoon will be able to pitch harder in 2014 with a full-year removed from the injury. However, it remains to be seen whether major league clubs will make a multimillion dollar gamble on Yoon who at best projects as a backend starter at this point.

The Chicago Cubs, Minnesota Twins and the Kansas City Royals were known to have expressed their interest in Yoon, but the talks haven't progressed to serious levels.

Yoon has constantly said he was motivated by Ryu, the big, 26-year-old lefty who went 14-8 in his rookie season with the Los Angeles Dodgers this year. But while Yoon had been a comparable pitcher to Ryu during their time in the KBO, it bears further watching whether he has a future in American baseball.

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