Tuesday Dish: The Rangers’ Korean Surprise

The low Class A Hickory Crawdads have a pitching staff featuring plenty of international talent, including the Venezuelan trio of lefthander Martin Perez and righties Wilmer Font and Wilfredo Boscan. While that group offers plenty to get excited about, another, much less heralded pitcher on the Crawdads’ staff has one of its best.

"The biggest surprise for us has been Yoon-He Nam, the Korean kid," Hickory pitching coach Brad Holman said.

The Rangers signed the lefthander Nam as an 18-year-old out of Korea in 2006. After two years in short-season leagues, the now 21-year-old Nam is getting his first look at full-season ball and has shown he’s up to the task. Nam has worked primarily out of the Hickory bullpen, making 19 appearances and four starts, yet he’s piled up a 7-1, 1.73 record and has won his last six decisions going back to April 29.

Nam doesn’t offer overpowering velocity, but he’s shown an ability to miss bats as he’s piled up 57 strikeouts in 52 innings while allowing only 30 hits and a .165 average against.

"He’s unbelievable," Holman said. "He throws four pitches—fastball, curveballl, slider, changeup. He commands them all. He disrupts timing."

Nam was utterly dominant during a nearly two-month stretch from April 25 through June 13. During that span, Nam allowed only two runs and 11 hits over 36 innings and 11 appearances. He also put together a 38-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio. That success landed Nam a spot in the South Atlantic League All-Star game.

All of this is coming after Nam put together two solid, if unspectacular seasons in short-season leagues. He made his U.S. debut in the Rookie-level Arizona League in 2007 and went 4-1, 3.62 in 32 innings, all in relief. After moving up to the short-season Northwest League last year, Nam posted a similar season, going 2-0, 4.20. Those numbers didn’t put him on the radar, but his success this season has.

"His velocity’s not through the roof or anything like that," Holman said. "But he commands the baseball and knows how to pitch."

It Takes Two

Mets fans have been starved for good news lately, but a pair of their mound prospects were involved in a couple of fine pitcher’s duels Monday night. Double-A Binghamton righthander Dylan Owen had one of the best night’s of any prospect, going 7 2/3 shutout innings against Akron and giving up only four hits while striking out seven and walking one. Owen was going toe-to-toe with Akron righthander Jeanmar Gomez—he of the perfect game on May 21. Gomez lasted six innings, allowing no runs on five hits. Neitther starter was rewarded for his efforts, as the two bullpens kept the game scoreless until the 10th inning, when the B-Mets scored the first and only run of the night on an RBI single by DH Josh Thole.

Monday’s outing was easily the best of the year for Owen, who’s given up six runs or more four times and lasted six innings in only three of his first 11 starts. He remains winless for the season at 0-5 with a 6.00 ERA in 63 innings, but Monday at least gave him something to build on.

In Savannah, low Class A Charleston lefty Manny Banuelos and Sand Gnats righthander Jeurys Familia kept putting up zeros themselves. The Futures Gamer Banuelos pitched 6 2/3 shutout innings while allowing seven hits and fanning three. Familia was arguably better through six innings, allowing only two hits on the night and keeping the game scoreless until the seventh, when Charleston plated the game’s only run on an RBI fielder’s choice. Banuelos got credit for his sixth win of the season and fifth in six decisions, while lowering his ERA to 2.26, the third best in the SAL.

Seven Up, Seven Down

It’s Tuesday, that means it’s time to present the top seven and bottom seven full-season minor league clubs through games of Monday, June 29. The caret (^) indicates a team that did not appear in our last ranking.

Why seven teams? It may not be as comforting to us as numbers ending in five or zero, but this way we encompass all the teams playing at the extremes. That is, all the clubs with .700 (or better) winning percentages are included, as are all clubs residing below the .300 line.

1 Birmingham 51 25 .671 Southern AA White Sox L1 5-5
2 Akron 50 25 .666 Eastern AA Indians L2 7-3
3 Fort Wayne 49 25 .662 Midwest LoA Padres W4 8-2
4 Lynchburg 47 27 .635 Carolina HiA Pirates L1 5-5
5 Brevard County 43 26 .623 Florida State HiA Brewers W2 3-7
6 West Michigan 46 28 .622 Midwest LoA Tigers W1 6-4
7 San Jose^ 46 29 .613 California  HiA Giants L1 8-2
  High Desert 46 29 .613 California HiA Mariners W1 5-5

Dropped Out: None.

1 Altoona 27 50 .351 Eastern AA Pirates L1 4-6
2 Buffalo 26 48 .351 International AAA Mets L3 3-7
3 Stockton 27 48 .360 California HiA Athletics W2 3-7
4 Lancaster 28 47 .373 California HiA Astros L2 5-5
5 South Bend^ 27 45 .375 Midwest LoA Diamondbacks L4 1-9
6 Lansing^ 28 45 .384 Midwest LoA Blue Jays W1 4-6
  Kinston^ 28 45 .384 Carolina HiA Indians L1 3-7

Dropped Out: Harrisburg, .432; West Virginia, .405; Asheville, .397; Beloit, 392.

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