Is Hyun-Seok Jang the Next Big Korean Star in MLB?

Meet the Dodgers' Rising Pitching Sensation from South Korea

by Nouman Rasool
Is Hyun-Seok Jang the Next Big Korean Star in MLB?
© Kevork Djansezian

Rob Hill was a Dodgers executive—roving over the minor-league pitching side of the room, which means, as with everyone in the game, he did not need to be told that you should not have a central role in such a conversation, should not be standing there with a perfect stranger, detailing mechanical similarities and approach, between Jang Hyun-Seok, the young Korean prospect who, depending on your level of kindness, cruelty, or indifference to the vagaries of human fate, would be variously blessed or cursed with the Rochester misidentification.

And with Ohtani and now another Japanese sensation, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, attracting all the media's attention, the Dodgers franchise can all but be giddy on the down-low with what their own new potential Asian elite in Jang is capable of.

Jang had signed for $900,000 as a 20-year-old last year, to a Dodgers club for restocking its supply of young talent into the big-league level. The Dodgers don't expect a house name in major league baseball, but they do view him as a very, very important part of their future, one from which they hope he can morph into the success they had pinned their hopes on for Ohtani to begin with.

He didn't come to the United States then, and the Dodgers were among the teams interested when he left high school in 2012. Jang comes straight out of the city at the mouth of South Korea's coast, Changwon. The rising star pitcher from his home city, projecting to be one of the most promising high school prospects at 6'4", with an upper-90s fastball and a suite of effective breaking pitches, would have easily been the top pick in the KBO League draft.

But opting for another way, he went for the major league baseball challenge in the United States, signing with the Dodgers in August.

Jang's Bold Choice

This option within the possibilities, therefore, was a bold deviation from what has proven to be an eventual trajectory of begun careers in the KBO, where immediate glory stood in his stead.

He now seeks competition within the MLB and its more sophisticated facilities for training and analytics, opportunities to size his skills up against those of the Americans. Jang said he was surprised by his opportunity with the Dodgers, something that didn't surprise KBO general manager Kim — that the Dodgers specifically dealt for midseason just to get the international signing bonus pool money needed for the organization.

Before coming to the U.S., Jang helped the South Korean national baseball team to a gold medal at the Asian Games—the medal that also accounts for an exemption from military service—and took him on a different legal path in becoming a free agent in America.

The Dodgers expect to start him in the rookie-league Arizona Complex and move him through the big-league system in about two or three years. He is now ranked the No. 18 prospect by MLB Pipeline. The right-hander has worked on his pitch arsenal, which now includes all types of fastballs and breaking pitches.

They have raved about the work ethic and the skills Hwang brings to the delight of Dodgers personnel and the notice of general manager Brandon Gomes and vice president of player development Will Rhymes. They also laud him for wanting to pitch in the highest level, 'not being scared, and putting himself into that place, coming to a whole new country'

Comparisons to Bobby Miller, a talented rookie of the previous season, highlight Jang's physicality and the potential to develop as a power-conference starter. The Dodgers have seen in Jang the potential for, in their case, a second headline arrival from Asia following their pursuit of Ohtani.

Size, skill, determination, Jang had it all—he just looked both like the best investment the Dodgers could make and as a repudiation of what doubt does to a team's commitment to hunting and developing foreign talent.