50 Percent Return
PHILADELPHIAOn a sunny spring day in March 2001, the Phillies announced the most significant leap forward in their fledgling Pacific Rim scouting initiative.
Two Korean righthanders, Seung Lee and Il Kim, had been signed to lucrative contracts. Lee got a $1.2 million bonus; Kim received $800,000. "Its like getting two extra No. 1 draft choices," said scouting director Mike Arbuckle.
A lot has changed since then.
Lee emerged from a turbulent first year that included back surgery to show the promise that the organization saw. Pitching for Class A Lakewood, he was 7-10 but had a 3.24 ERA while allowing 132 hits in 147 innings. He also pitched briefly with Class A Clearwater and Double-A Reading.
"The surgery set Lee back," Arbuckle said. "But when he returned this year, his velocity had improved. Now that hes made the adjustment, we see him as a highly touted prospect."
Added former BlueClaws manager Jeff Manto: "I just think he needed to get acclimated in this country. Once he got comfortable over here, he relaxed and really started throwing the heck out of the ball."
Kims stock, on the other hand, has dropped precipitously. After leading the New York-Penn League with two shutouts in 2001, he made just 21 relief appearances at Lakewood (2-1, 4.14) this year.
"Hes gotten thicker," Arbuckle said. "He just has not progressed."
The different career paths of the two pitchers demonstrate the difficulty of international scouting, Arbuckle said.
"You get a much shorter glimpse," he said. "In this country, youll see a prospect for two or three years. Its much more of a shot in the dark internationally. Youre just getting limited looks at the tools and the stuff. You really cant get the whole picture."
Because of the limited returns from Asia, the Phillies are restructuring their approach. Pacific Rim supervisor Doug Takaragawa was fired, and the team is likely to hire a local scout in Japan, Korea and Australia and use international supervisor Sal Agostinelli to crosscheck in those areas.
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