“He’s thinking about five innings and three runs.”
That’s manager Kim Jong-kook’s (50) 먹튀검증 unwavering stance toward ‘special rookie’ Yoon Young-chul (19-KIA Tigers), and while it’s hard to imagine why he wouldn’t be excited, he’s hard-pressed to express it.
Yoon made his first start of the 2023 Shinhan Bank SOL KBO League against the visiting Doosan Bears on Nov. 11 at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul, giving up three runs on 77 pitches with one walk and five strikeouts in six innings.
Although the team lost 2-3 and Yoon took the loss, it was his second quality start (6+ innings pitched, 3 earned runs or less) in as many games.
Yoon Young-cheol, who joined KIA as the second overall rookie pick after graduating from Chungam High School, was a rookie who received higher scores in terms of completeness than the number one pick, Kim Seo-hyun (Hanwha Eagles).
His fastball tops out at just over 140 kilometers per hour and he dominated the high school league. Kim was in no rush to select Yoon as his fifth starter. After three consecutive rainouts at the start of the season, the rotation was based on existing players. Yoon, who didn’t make his debut until April 15, had a bit of an adjustment period at the beginning of the season.
He didn’t make it past five innings in his first two games in April, but has since been a consistent starter in his minimal role of five innings. In May, he stepped it up with three wins and a 2.03 ERA in five games, and in June, he’s gone six or more innings in both of his starts, proving his potential as an innings-eater.
He’s also a game manager. In the second inning, he held the Doosan offense to just one run despite facing five hits. He’s not afraid to leave runners on base. His batting average with runners in scoring position this season is 0.152, which is much better than his season average of 0.234.
The answer lies in his excellent fastball, which he uses to generate offense. His fastball was only 141 mph on this day, but numbers don’t tell the whole story. He didn’t have many pitches. He threw 39 fastballs, 24 sliders, and 14 changeups against the Doosan hitters with only three pitches. He has a great deception motion that allows him to hide the ball all the way to the plate, which adds to the power of his pitches.
Before the game, Doosan manager Lee Seung-yeop said, “He has a good changeup, and I don’t think it’s a 20-year-old’s pitch,” adding, “He has good control and control like a veteran’s pitch,” which is a common outside view of Yoon Young-chul.
He struck out five batters and lasted until the sixth inning. In the bottom of the sixth, after giving up a leadoff double to Park Kye-beom, he made a spectacular glove toss to prevent a runner from scoring from third base on a grounder by Kim Jae-ho. Kia then threw out a runner at first base trying to steal second to end the inning. The three earned runs in six innings raised his ERA to 3.08, which ranks ninth in the league. As a late addition to the first team, he is ⅓ of an inning shy of the required 53 innings, but will be able to reach the standard in his next outing. Among left-handers, his ERA is second only to teammate Lee Yi-ri (2.77). He’s arguably the best lefty in the league right now.
Despite this, coach Kim Jong-guk is not excited. “(Lee’s) expectation is six innings and three runs, but I think Young-chul’s is five innings and three runs,” he said. His season ERA is 3.08, which seems rather modest considering that he’s getting better every day, has a better record than Yang Hyun-jong (4.55), and has a much more calculated approach to pitching than Lee.
It’s a gesture of respect and a way to take some of the pressure off of him. “I’m doing better than I expected, but I always try to keep it in perspective,” Kim said.
This week, Yoon took the mound once again on Tuesday (June 6) after his first start. It’s the first time he’s pitched twice in a week since his debut. “It’s the first time I’ve had four days off, but I think I need to check my physical condition after the game,” Kim said. “I also need to see how I throw on Saturday (17). If it’s heavy, we’ll have to make adjustments.”
However, this is not the rookie who has always exceeded his manager’s expectations, as he has done before. Yoon went six innings on just 77 pitches, and Kim took him off the mound without putting the team’s future in jeopardy.
With the exception of Kim Jong-kook, the interest and expectations for Yoon Young-chul are growing. It’s a shame that he was left out of the final roster for the 2022 Hangzhou Asian Games. However, given the coach’s desire to see him develop slowly and steadily, it’s one less risk factor for the young pitcher to be overwhelmed. Moreover, there is no need to dwell on the disappointment, because if she continues to grow or maintain her performance, she will be able to compete in the Asian Games in three years.
As expected by his coach, Yoon is improving gradually, day by day, not in a hurry. Kim’s special consideration is making Yoon a unique player who will lead the future of KIA and Korea.