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“Major Leagues ‘Go East’ for New Talent”

by Eric Larson

Forget the fact that Latin America has traditionally existed as the fertile
ground for fresh baseball talent in the Major Leagues.  Now it seems that
scouts are sailing the Pacific for new faces.

The Los Angeles Dodgers and Colorado Rockies suffered a long battle for three Taiwan natives, Chin-Feng Chen, Chin-Hui Tsao, and Hong-Chih Kuo. The Dodgers settled with two out of three and hope to broadcast soon with the first Taiwanese player in the Major Leagues.

Los Angeles is hoping to capitalize with Chen and Kuo, acting as their
second and third best prospects, respectively.  This is their most recent
act in a long courtship with the Asian market, beginning with the
acquisition of Chan Ho Park and Hideo Nomo in 1994 and 1995.  They are hoping to hit the jackpot with these final acquisitions.  Chin-Feng Chen has already proven himself in the California League, posting a .316 batting average and knocking 31 homers in 1999.  Couple this with his 31 stolen bases in the same year, Chen has proven himself the perfect balance between speed and power.  Indeed, scouts are noticing his significant talent and unique style.

“He generates amazing bat speed with his thighs through the middle of his chest,” commented Dodgers’ farm director Jerry Weinstein.  “When that club head comes through, there is some tremendous acceleration.  That’s why the ball just explodes off his bat.”

Hong-Chih Kuo is also well respected in the Dodgers organization, despite his recent leave of absence due to Tommy John surgery.  Before the treatment, Kuo was known for his mid to high-nineties fast ball and
aggressive attitude on the mound.  With the proper training and development, the Dodgers are hoping to add him to the roster as one of their high velocity, power pitchers.  He will start the new season at Class A Vero Beach.

The Chicago Cubs are also braving the high seas for a possible replacement for Mark Grace, who was traded to Arizona in the off-season.  Hee Seop Choi has yet to play a game for the struggling Chicago team, but prospects are high.  In 1999, he hit .321, with 18 home runs in 290 at-bats in Class A Lansing.  He followed with a .300 plus average in Double-A West Tennessee.
 
His debut at that class-level was punctuated by one home run per every 12 at-bats.  The next fall, he led his league in homers and busted a .577
slugging percentage.  The one negative scoop so far: he has yet to see
quality pitching.  Assistant General Manager Jim Hendry is positive, but
realistic.

“Obviously, he hasn’t seen a ton of left-handed pitching on a daily basis,”
Hendry commented.  Choi, too, has been prone to striking out, although his 112 walks in 211 games can lend some evidence to the fact that he can lay off the bad pitches.

The Rockies, not to be left in the wake, have made definite moves on the Far East market.  They are banking on Chin-Hui Tsao, a 19-year old pitcher from Taiwan.  The 6’ 2” hurler has many accolades in the States to back up a solid career in Asia.  He received the nod from Major League scouts after pitching a perfect inning in an exhibition game against Seattle.  Later that same year, he received recognition as “Most Valuable Pitcher” for the South Atlantic League.

“His composure was what impressed me the most,” said Tim Ireland, a former scout for the Colorado Rockies.  Through culture shock and home sickness, Tsao has managed to keep his patience on the mound.  Perhaps he takes some sort of ironic solace in the fact that he’ll attempt to pitch in the best hitter’s park in the league.

More than likely, though, it was the $2.2 million signing bonus.