Pitcher Ryu Hyun-Jin Tops Preseason Rookie Roster

Korean lefty Ryun Hyun-jin, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ biggest pitching acquisition of the year, was named top preseason rookie for 2013 Thursday by the magazine Baseball America.

That fact that Ryu was ranked number one among the 20 rookies featured in the magazine’s list isn’t surprising. On the verge of turning 26, Ryu was generally regarded as Korea’s top baseball star after seven pro seasons before the Dodgers signed him to a 6-year, $62-million contract on the strength of scouting videos.

“The first player to jump directly from the Korean major league to Major League Baseball, Ryu lives up to his US$36 million contract by brandishing four pitches and helping push the Dodgers past the Giants in the [National League] West,” was the magazine’s best-case assessment for Ryu.

“Ryu’s hefty strikeout rate (10.3 SO/9 last year) in Korea gets lost in translation or, alternately, the abundance of innings he logged at young age finally catch up with him,” was the worst-case scenario.

An exhibition game Thursday against the Cleveland Indians gave general manager Don Mattingly and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt a chance to see Ryu work against major-league hitters. They liked what they saw. In three innings of pitching he struck out five and gave up no hits until the start of his fourth when he gave up three hits and two runs to a pair of runners who had already been on base when he took to the mound.

“With Hyun-jin it was just tough because we haven’t seen this guy at the major league level,” Mattingly said. “I know we’ve seen some video tape, but like we said this morning, how are hitters going to react to him? Today showed that this guy knows what he’s doing. He knows how to change speeds, he pitches quick. For us, we just want to see it.”

“Everything was all right, satisfactory,” said Ryu, apparently pleased with his maiden major-league outing. “But going into the fourth inning, I had 10 pitches left. I kind of lost focus. I wanted to try to finish it in 10 pitches. I felt I kind of rushed myself.”

“The thing that stood out to me, especially in the last couple of innings, was his fastball command and his ability to throw the ball to both sides of the plate,” said catcher A.J. Ellis. “His change up is obviously a major league out pitch. We just have to work on those breaking balls.”

Ryu said he would continue to mix in more breaking balls and refine them as the spring goes on. He commands enough respect with his new team that they plan to let him follow his routine of not throwing in the bullpen between starts.

“He’s comfortable where he is at, and knows he’s building up for a long season, versus guys who have to make an impression,” Ellis said. “This is a guy who was the best baseball player in his entire country. He’s got all the reasons in the world to be confident and believe in himself and what he’s done. Until we see otherwise, we’re going to let him do what he needs to do to get ready for the season.”

Ryu is expected to play again Tuesday in another exhibition game against the Milwaukee Brewers.