With the recent downward spiral in sign-on bonuses for Taiwanese HS kids joining MLB clubs, I was surprised when the Anaheim Angels inked the top Korean HS kid - Young-Il Jung with a $1 million sign on bonus. Baseball America then promptly named the kid the #4 prospect in the entire system. Granted, the kid is talented - (maxes out at 93 mph), however I'm not quite sure if pure physical talent is the only reason why the Angels shelled out so much $$$ for his services.
Cracking the Korean market is tough, as Shin-Soo Choo and Jae-Kuk Ryu are two of the more recent successful kids to make the jump to the US from HS. If you combine the past string of Korean HS kids who didn't pan out in the US with the fact that the KBO does a good job of holding on to young domestic talent, you can see why the signings from Korea have been more infrequent recently. With that said, the Angels were probably able to steal Jung away from the KBO by inking their 2006 first round draft pick - Hank Conger who is Korean-American. Also it doesn't hurt that Southern Cal has a huge Korean-American population who come out in full force to support their roots - ie the World Baseball Classic, World Cup appearances, Chan Ho Park when he was a Dodger. Hopefully we continue to see more signings from South Korea in the future.
With that said, the last HS kid from Taiwan to receive a 7 figure sign-on bonus was Ching-Lung Lo in 2001 ($1.4 million). Lo's upside as a 16 year old and the fact that he stood 6'4" and threw in the low 90's justified his sign-on bonus. The only other 2 HS kids from Taiwan to receive more were Chin-Hui Tsao with $2.2 million in 1999 and Hong-Chih Kuo with $1.25 million also in 1999. The next kid down the list is Chia-An Huang who was signed for $710,000 in 2004. Huang's reputation as an 18 year old mirror the same descriptions for Young-Il Jung - a top young power right handed pitcher.
Let's take a look at the signing bonuses for all the Taiwanese kids in MLB organizations:
1)*Chin-Hui Tsao $2.2 million 1999
2)Chien-Ming Wang $1.9 million 2000
3)*Ching-Lung Lo $1.4 million 2001
4)*Hong-Chih Kuo $1.25 million 1999
5)*Chia-An Huang $710,000 2004
6)Chin-Feng Chen $680,000 1999
7)*Chi-Hung Cheng $400,000 2003
8)*Chih-Hsien Chiang $375,000 2005
9)Sung-Wei Tseng $300,000 2006
10)Po-Yu Lin $250,000 2006
11)Po-Hsuan Keng $220,000 2004
12)Yung-Chi Chen $200,000 2003
13)Kuo-Hui Lo $155,000 2005
14)Sheng-An Kuo $150,000 2007
15)*Ching-Lung Hu $150,000 2003
16)*Chen-En Hong $120,000 2006
17)*Wang-Wei Lin $120,000 2006
18)*Chih-Hsiang Huang $100,000 2006
19)TJ Yeh $80,000 2005
20)*Chao-Kuan Wu $71,000 2002
21)Yen-Feng Lin $60,000 2005
22)*Wang-Yi Lin $58,000 2005
23)Kevin Huang $50,000 2000
* signed out of HS
What does this tell us? Well, for one it's obvious that there's a big drop-off in talent after all the big names signed in 1999 - 2001. After 2001, the top HS pitcher to come out of Taiwan (and to the US) has been Chia- An Huang. The top hitting HS prospect to come out of Taiwan (and to the US) has been Chih-Hsien Chiang. As good as these 2 kids are, the current trend has seen a shift of the most talented Taiwanese HS kids going to HS in Japan and receiving hefty signing bonuses.
Cases in point:
1)Chih-Chia Chang $1 million 2002
2)*Chung-Shou Yang $750,000 2005
3)Wei-Yin Chen $850,000 - comprehensive package including incentives 2004
4)Chien-Ming Chiang $700,000 - comprehensive package including incentives 2005
5)Yao-Hsun Yang $346,000 2005
6)*Ping Yen-Lee $335,000 2006
7)*Yi-Hao Lin $100,000 2006 - the Giants got a steal of a deal here!
*signed out of HS/junior high
The post 2001 signings have seen MLB take a chance on "developing players" out of Taiwan while the NPB has shown an interest in players that are polished and ready - top young prospects like those listed above and the cream of the crop in the CPBL:
1)En-Yu Lin $430,000 2006
2)Si-Yo Wu $344,000 2006
Hopefully we'll see where C.H. Lin and H.H. Kuo stand pretty soon.
***All data obtained from various media outlets and sources - so the $ may vary slightly.
ESPN has a pretty good article on baseball in Asia.