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Baltimore Orioles sign Korean pitcher Yoon Jung-hyun

The Baltimore Orioles have signed South Korean pitcher Yoon Jung-hyun, a U.S. media report said Thursday, Korean time, the latest Korean acquisition by the team that had earlier botched the signing of a high school pitcher here.

The Baltimore Sun reported that the Major League Baseball club signed the 21-year-old left-hander for his “smooth delivery” and “a solid curveball with significant upside.” Financial terms of the deal were not immediately disclosed.

Yoon dropped out of Dongguk University in Seoul last August.

Out of high school, he had been an eighth-round draft pick by the Lotte Giants in the Korea Baseball Organization in 2012, but he decided to pursue university studies instead.

According to the Baltimore Sun, Yoon will report to the Orioles’ spring training complex in Sarasota, Florida, to begin working out and will be reevaluated before being assigned within the club’s minor league system.

Yoon’s fastball is known to reach 146 kilometers per hour and he can also throw a curve and changeup. He appeared in 11 games for Dongguk last year, going 2-1 with a 4.36 ERA in 33 1/3 innings.

In January last year, the Orioles announced the signing of a South Korean high school pitcher Kim Seong-min, but the move angered the KBO and also the Korea Baseball Association, the governing body of amateur baseball, because the MLB club didn’t carry out the mandatory status check of the player’s availability.

The mishap forced the Orioles to apologize to the KBO and the KBA for an “unintentional breach of protocol.” The KBA banned the Orioles scouts from attending South Korean high school and university games.

According to the KBA on Thursday, the ban on the Orioles’ scouts is still in effect. A KBA official said he isn’t aware of any Baltimore scout who has attempted to attend KBA-sanctioned games in the past year.

The official acknowledged that it is difficult to check every foreign person’s ID at games or ask people with speed guns and notepads if they represent the Orioles, saying such steps “would violate those individuals’ basic rights.”

In February last year, the KBO said MLB fined the Orioles for the signing and decided not to approve the Kim contract for 30 days. The Orioles ultimately didn’t sign the pitcher.

The Orioles’ move also sparked controversy because Kim, then a high school sophomore, himself breached a local rule preventing underclassmen from making contact with professional clubs. The KBA suspended him indefinitely from playing or coaching in South Korea for his violation.

Players outside of the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico can join major league teams as international free agents after they turn 16. MLB teams must receive KBO’s approval to sign South Korean professional ball players, but not amateurs.

In the aftermath of the Kim saga, the KBO had said it wanted to revise the player contract agreement with MLB so that big league clubs may only sign those who are playing or have played for professional teams, but not amateurs. The South Korean league has yet to act on the plan.

Dan Duquette, the Orioles’ executive vice president of baseball operations, has been known for his active pursuit of South Korean players. While he was general manager for the Boston Red Sox from 1994 to 2002, Duquette signed three South Korean pitchers, Kim Sun-woo, Cho Jin-ho and Lee Sang-hoon, all of whom reached the majors during Duquette’s tenure.

In late 2011, Duquette was in pursuit of another South Korean free agent, right-hander Chong Tae-hyon. The KBO All-Star, however, had medical issues and instead signed with the Lotte Giants in the KBO.

Then in January 2012, the O’s signed little-known right-hander Choi Eun-chul to a minor league deal. (Yonhap News)