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Hak-Ju Lee Leads Impressive Wave of Talent

The Chicago Cubs club has been one of the most active organizations when it comes to signing amateur talent out of Korea. This year, the Cubs received better-than-expected results from shortstop Hak-Ju Lee.

The 18-year-old infielder showed an advance approach at the plate for his age. He hit .330/.399/.420 in 264 at-bats. Lee posted a more than respectable walk rate of 10.5 BB% and a reasonable strikeout rate of 18.9 K%. He also had 25 steals in 33 attempts. Lee was incredibly consistent, hitting .300 in each month of the year, and he also hit more than .300 against both right-handed and left-handed pitchers.

Defensively, Lee showed excellent range at shortstop, but he made 27 errors in 61 games. Many young fielders – even those that go on to win Gold Gloves – struggle with errors in the low minors, so there is little to be concerned about; it’s more important to dwell on the range he exhibited. Lee is also still working his way back from Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow.

Pitcher Dae-Eun Rhee, 20, has perhaps even more potential than Lee, as he was ranked as the Cubs’ 4th overall prospect entering 2009, according to Baseball America, even though had Tommy John surgery after just 10 pro starts in 2008. Rhee had an impressive debut in ’08 when he allowed just 28 hits in 40 low-A ball innings. He also posted a walk rate of 3.60 BB/9 and a strikeout rate of 7.43 K/9. Rhee did not give up a home run. When healthy, he’s shown an 88-93 mph fastball, a plus changeup and a good curveball.

There are two other Korean players worth keeping an eye on in the Cubs organization, and both were signed along with Lee in 2008. Right-handed pitcher Su-Min Jung, 19, was treated with baby gloves in his debut season in ’09. He made two shutout appearances in rookie ball (three innings) before moving up to short-season ball. Jung allowed 23 hits in 24.2 innings of work, while also posting a walk rate of 4.01 BB/9 and a strikeout rate of 6.20 K/9. He showed some rough edges with a home-run rate of 1.46 HR/9 (despite a solid ground-ball rate) and a FIP of 5.63.

Outfielder Jae-Hoon Ha made his debut in ’09 at the Cubs’ short-season affiliate. The 18-year-old prospect hit .242/.264/.327 with a walk rate of 2.4 BB% and a strikeout rate of 12.5 K%. The numbers are certainly not exciting, but the right-handed hitter was young for the league, he was adapting to the North-American lifestyle, and his BABIP was just .270.