Image credit: Hyun-Jin Ryu (Getty Images)
It didn’t take long for the Dodgers’ new international group to get to work.
The Dodgers won the posting bid for Korean lefthander Hyun-Jin Ryu at a reported $25.7 million—or $25,737,737.33, to be precise. MLB announced on Saturday that the Hanwha Eagles of the Korean Baseball Organization accepted the bid, giving the Dodgers a 30-day window to negotiate a deal with Ryu, who is represented by the Boras Corporation. If the sides can’t reach an agreement, Ryu would return to the Eagles and the Dodgers would not have to pay them the posting fee.
Based on conversations with several scouts who have evaluated Ryu in person, here is Baseball America’s guide to Hyun-Jin Ryu.
Ryu has pitched for Hanwha in the KBO since 2006, when at 19 he became the first player in league history to win rookie of the year and MVP honors in the same season. This past season, Ryu had a 2.66 ERA in 182 2/3 innings, with 46 walks (2.3 per nine innings) and a KBO-leading 210 strikeouts (10.3 per nine).
He also has experience pitching on the international stage. At the 2008 Olympics, Ryu won two games for South Korea, including the gold-medal game against Cuba in which he went 8 1/3 innings to help lead the Koreans to a 3-2 victory. Ryu also pitched the following year in the World Baseball Classic, where he ranked as the No. 5 prospect at the tournament.
Per the new international rules in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, players who are at least 23 and have played five years in a recognized professional league such as the KBO will be exempt from the international bonus pools, so Ryu (who turns 26 in March and has pitched seven seasons for Hanwha) will not count against the Dodgers’ 2012-13 international bonus pool if he signs.
At 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, Ryu sits around 88-92 mph with his fastball and touches 94. He can add and subtract from his fastball, sinking it away with good armside life or getting on top of the ball for more power. While his fastball velocity is average or a tick better for a lefthanded starter, Ryu consistently earned more praise from scouts for his ability to command his fastball. Ryu spots his fastball with precision to both sides of the plate, attacks righthanded hitters on the inner half and doesn’t make too many mistakes out over the middle of the plate.
His best offspeed pitch is his changeup, which scouts peg as a 60 on the 20-80 scale. Ryu throws his changeup with good arm speed, gets good separation on it from his fastball and uses it to get most of his swings and misses.
He throws two breaking balls, one a slider that’s really more of a slurve, as well as a truer, slow curveball. Scouts had mixed opinions on his breaking stuff, with some preferring the slurve to the curveball. He throws from a three-quarters arm slot, so he tries to get rotation on the slider but struggles to get the pitch out front and instead gets around the ball, which gives it that slurvy break. It’s an inconsistent pitch that can be fringy, but it flashes as an average pitch at its best.
Ryu also throws a slow curveball in the high-60s that most scouts considered his fourth-best offering and more of a show-me pitch that Ryu could use for an early-count strike. At least one scout, however, thought his curveball flashed some power to it and could become a more reliable weapon than his slider.
Ryu has a portly build that scouts say he will have to keep in check, but his beefiness doesn’t prevent him from being able repeat his delivery and throw strikes, as scouts have commented that he has good body control and is more athletic than his doughy physique would suggest. His arm action is clean and his mechanics are sound. He does throw a little bit across his body and can get a bit upright in his delivery, but it doesn’t hinder his ability to throw the ball with downhill plane.
While some scouts said Ryu has a durable frame, his workload and injury history is a concern for some clubs. After having Tommy John surgery in high school, Ryu threw a little more than 200 innings each of his first two seasons in the KBO when he was 19 and 20 in 2006 and 2007. Other clubs said he’s had injuries the last few years, and he was limited to 126 innings in 2011.
The scouts who like Ryu the most project him as a potential No. 3 starter and think he could fill that role immediately for the Dodgers in 2013. Others saw him as more of a back-end starting pitcher, with quality middle relief potential at worst, though the Dodgers would certainly use him as a starter if they can get him signed. Ryu isn’t really a true prospect in the sense that he probably won’t have to spend a day in the minor leagues, but he would be in the discussion to rank on the Top 100 prospects list if he signs based on his present ability and immediate readiness for the big leagues.
The negotiations for Ryu should also be interesting. When an Asian professional team has posted a player, historically the amount of the posting fee has been roughly equal to the amount that ends up going to the player. However, the Dodgers would seem to have more leverage than a team like Texas or Boston did in negotiations with Yu Darvish and Daisuke Matsuzaka, who were making significantly more money in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball than Ryu is in the KBO. Ryu wants to come to MLB, should be in the prime of his career and scouts said he appeared bored at times pitching against inferior competition and on Hanwha, the worst team in the KBO. There were rumblings in international circles that Ryu might try to seek a short-term deal—perhaps for two years—to try to make more money after that as a true free agent.
Then again, given how the Dodgers have been spending money lately, they may not care what they pay.