Thursday, September 18, 2008

Tribe Signs Collegiate Standout from Taiwan

Cleveland finalized negotiations with right handed pitching prospect Chen-Chang Lee earlier this week. The 21 year old Lee is a native of Taiwan and started for his national team in the Beijing Olympics.

According to Cleveland's Assistant General Manager of Scouting, John Mirabelli, the team has scouted Lee since he was 16 years old. Cleveland reportedly offered Lee a contract in the past, but was turned down. Lee chose to attend Taipei Ti Wu college before going pro, the same school that produced Chien Ming Wang.

A Chinese news source translated by the blog Taiwan Baseball reports Lee "received a $350K signing bonus + a possible $90K for tuition if he performs well in the fall instructional league. Aside from the high six figure offer from a NPB team, Lee received interest from the Indians and 4 other ML teams. The other clubs' offers were all rumored to have been less than $150K (with the Twins offering less than $100K). The article also goes on to say that the reason for some of the scout's apprehension with not offering/or the lower offer for Lee, was because of Lee's limited upside (will probably be a middle reliever) and that he was over utilized in Taiwan."

Apparently, Lee and other Taiwanese pitchers were viewed by multiple Major League scouts at the Olympics. Lee may have boosted his value recently with a strong performance in Beijing. Lee surrendered just 3 H, 2 BB, and 1 ER with 7 SO over 6.2 IP against the Cuban national team. He followed that strong outing up with 2.1 IP, 1 ER, and 4 SO against the United States. Lee has participated in various collegiate and amateur leagues during his career, as well and is highly regarded in Taiwan.

On his blog, Castronvince writes that Lee "reportedly throws a sinker, slider and split-finger. His fastball is said to max out at 94 mph." Lee also features a side-arm delivery, which is one reason scouts view him as a reliever if he ever makes the Majors. In a 2007 article, Keith Law described Lee as a "fast return on investment" and "the top college pitcher" in Taiwanese baseball. According to previous reports cited by Taiwan Baseball, Lee has encountered some shoulder injuries in the past. Given the extent to which Lee has been scouted and a successful physical, his shoulder does not appear to be a major concern at this point.

Lee is expected to report to Class-A Kinston for the 2009 season.

On Pacific Rim Baseball

Even if Lee does not make an impact in the Major Leagues, his signing may serve as another stepping stone for Cleveland baseball in East Asia. Cleveland has been very active throughout the region for several years and all signs point to Asia as an emerging hot bed for baseball prospects. Taiwan, South Korea, and China have joined Japan in producing Major League caliber players and MLB has started to aggressively promote the sport in these emerging regions. Lee is one of Taiwan's best known players and his career with the Tribe should draw a fair amount of interest there. His signing may encourage prospects to take a closer look at Cleveland's system in the future.

The Dodgers have had a strong presence in China since the 1980s when they teamed up with the China Baseball Association. The partnership led to visits by Dodgers coaches and scouts, field construction, baseball clinics, and youth leagues in China. The Dodgers and Padres played two exhibition games in China last Spring, marking the first meeting of two MLB teams in the country.

MLB has had a flurry of activity the past two years, establishing grass roots programs to promote the sport, signing an agreement with Chinese television to air the World Series, and hosting the Chinese National team at this year's Arizona Fall League.

The Yankees began collaborating with the Chinese Baseball Association last year on ways to develop and promote baseball in China. New York became the first MLB team to sign Chinese players in pitcher Kai Liu and catcher Zhenwang Zhang, both 19 years old. Further utilizing their well-known name, the Yankees also became the first MLB team to sign a sponsorship deal with a Chinese company.

Seattle signed two more Chinese players later on in 2007, catcher Wei Wang and infielder/outfielder Yu Bingjia.

Taiwan was represented in the Majors well before 2007. Yankees ace Chien-Ming Wang is by far the most famous and had an outstanding sophomore season in 2006 (19-6, 218 IP, 3.63 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 1.46 K/BB). The Dodgers have had four Taiwanese players in their system since 2002 (Chin-Feng Chen, Chin-Lung Hu, Hong-Chih Kuo, Chin-hui Tsao), while Colorado (Chin-hui Tsao) and Cleveland have each signed one.

Cleveland's prospect, relief pitcher Sung-Wei Tseng, split the 2008 season in Kinston (5.27 ERA, 54.2 IP) and Akron (8.80 ERA, 15.1 IP), where he has apparently been struggling.


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