I was confident. It’s fun to break the bar.”
This isn’t just a quip. Enter KIA’s “Baby Tiger” Yoon Young-cheol, 19, who is too powerful for his 19-year-old mind.
In nine games this season, Yoon is 3-2 with a 2.89 ERA in 46.2 innings pitched. It’s amazing that he’s even in the starting rotation. He’s logging the most innings of any rookie. His ERA is also in the low 2s.
On the 6th, he had a personal best against SSG in Gwangju. He pitched seven innings of six-hit ball, one walk, two strikeouts, and two earned runs for a Quality Start Plus (QS+). He went seven innings for the first time in his career. Threw just 99 pitches.
The second overall pick in the 2023 rookie draft. Together with Kim Seo-hyun (Hanwha), they were called the “Big 2” and were embraced by KIA. Naturally, great expectations were raised. He proved his worth through spring training and exhibition games. He confidently secured the fifth starting spot.
It is not easy for a high school rookie to play in the first team right away. Before the season, the general consensus was that he would need time. There were also negative predictions that he wouldn’t be able to survive with a 130 kilometers per hour fastball.
He proved them wrong. Yoon said, “I was confident. I was confident. But it’s also fun to break that evaluation. I think I’m having fun while doing it, and I’m glad that the results turned out well,” he said encouragingly.
Due to rain cancellations earlier in the season, Yoon’s pitching order was pushed back, and he made his first start on April 15 against the Gochuk Kiwoom. He gave up five runs in 3.2 innings. It wasn’t a good start. On April 21, he made his second appearance for Samsung Electronics in Gwangju, giving up two runs in 4.1 innings.
Since then, he’s been on a roll. His worst outing in seven games was five innings and three runs. Under the management of KIA, he has been pitching five innings. He gave up one run in the sixth inning and two in the seventh.
Manager Kim Jong-guk said, “He has basic operational skills. He doesn’t look like a player who just graduated from high school and came to the pros. It’s operational, and his command is stable. He’s doing a good job. However, his first-inning run rate and walk rate are a little high. He just needs to get through the first inning.”
On the seventh inning in Game 6, he said, “There’s something that you feel when you pitch a long inning. It gives you the confidence to say, ‘This is how many pitches I can throw, this is how many innings I can go.’ I think you should try to pitch over 100 pitches once in a while,” he explained.
“I pitched well, and I wanted to make sure I was in charge by the seventh inning. I have a Sunday start, but I didn’t care. I pitched well. I’m going to keep going on Sunday.”
He has a .368 batting average and 메이저놀이터 a .994 OPS. Not a good start. In the second inning, he has a 0.103 BABIP and a 0.360 OPS. In Game 6, he gave up a double to Ha Jae-hoon with the bases loaded in the first inning, which cost him the game.
Yoon said, “A pitcher can’t throw and not get hit. If you’re going to get hit, it’s better to get hit early. I gave up a run in the first inning, but I’m glad I was able to pitch a long inning,” he said.
“At the end of the day, if you’re going to get a lot of innings, you have to keep your pitch count down. You can only do that by pitching aggressively and keeping the count down. Yesterday, my pitches weren’t very good. My changeup and slider weren’t working early on. So I went with my fastball, and then my slider and changeup got better.”
On his first time pitching in the seventh inning, he said, “I didn’t really think, ‘It’s the seventh inning.’ I just thought it was the same inning. It was no different. The starters get a couple of days off when they pitch, but not the bullpen. That’s why you need long innings,” he emphasized.
His velocity is also improving. On the sixth, he was up to 142 mph, with no team intervention. There’s plenty of room for improvement. For now, Yoon is focusing on his pitches.
“I throw the same as usual. However, when I’m in a favorable count or there are no runners on base, I use more power. I think that’s how I get my speed up,” he laughs.