The claws of the ‘baby tiger’ are sharpening. The pace of growth for Kia Motors Baseball’s top rookie Yoon Young-cheol (19-photo) has accelerated.
Selected by KIA with the second overall pick in the first round of the 2023 KBO League Rookie Draft, Yoon was already labeled a “complete pitcher” in high school. Last year, as a junior at Chungam High School, he appeared in 15 games and pitched 65.1 innings, posting an impressive 13 wins (2 losses) and a 1.66 ERA. Yoon was touted as the next in a long line of left-handed pitchers in the league, including Yang Hyun-jong (KIA) and Kim Kwang-hyun (SSG).
While Yoon doesn’t have the fastballs that Ahn Woo-jin (Kiwoom) and Moon Dong-joo and Kim Seo-hyun (Hanwha) have, he has the ability to put the ball exactly where he wants it. Even his fastball, which sits in the low 130 mph range, finds all corners of the strike zone, making it difficult for batters to swing at it. Add to that a highly-improved slider and changeup, and you’ve got a pitch that takes away the timing of hitters’ pitches.
Yoon continues to improve with every game he plays. Kia manager Kim Jong-kook described him as “calculated”.
In his start against Kiwoom on March 15, Yoon’s long arm faltered, giving up five runs on five hits in 3.2 innings of work. It didn’t take him long to adjust to the professional mound. In his second start for Samsung Electronics, Yoon improved his command with 4.1 innings of two-run ball, and on March 3, he picked up his first win with five innings of one-run ball against Lotte. His temperament of battling hitters with his hard stuff rarely allows him to self-destruct by failing to throw strikes. As of July 7, Yoon has averaged five innings in nine starts 안전놀이터.
The day before, in a home game against league-leading SSG at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field, Yoon took a leap forward, breaking the record for most innings in a game from six to seven. He pitched a “Yoon-young-chul-esque” game, averaging 137 kilometers per hour with his fastball (49 pitches), slider (31 pitches), changeup (16 pitches), and curveball (3 pitches), but he couldn’t get enough support from the bats and took the loss after seven innings of two-run ball. Yoon is 3-2 with a 2.89 ERA this season, the second-lowest ERA on the team behind Lee. His WAR (Wins Above Replacement, based on Statcast) is 1.27, the second highest among KIA pitchers.
Yoon is the future of KIA, and he’s in contention for the Rookie of the Year award alongside the likes of Kim Dong-joo (Doosan), Lee Yong-joon (NC), and Moon Dong-joo. With his steep rise, it won’t be a distant dream.