Minor league pitcher Yang Hyeon-jong shoots down talks of KBO return

June 30, 2021

He may be toiling in the minor league for now, but South Korean left-hander Yang Hyeon-jong hasn’t given up on his dreams of returning to the majors.

Yang, who is pitching for the Texas Rangers’ Triple-A club in Round Rock, rejected talks of a return to the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) on Wednesday. In a statement released by his Seoul-based agency, Spostarz, Yang said, “Things are tough right now, but I have absolutely no plan to go back to Korea right away. I’ll keep on battling.”

After 14 seasons with the Kia Tigers in the KBO, Yang signed a one-year minor league deal with the Rangers in February, worth US$1.3 million. He had an invitation to spring training but didn’t break camp with the Rangers. He earned his first callup in April and pitched to a 5.59 ERA and a 0-3 record in eight appearances, including four starts.

The Rangers assigned Yang to the minors on June 16 and then designated him for assignment the following day, removing him from the 40-man roster.

Once designated for assignment, the player must be traded, released or placed on irrevocable waivers within seven days. If the player clears waivers — meaning, no other team picks him — he may be sent outright to the minor league.

This led to speculation that Yang would choose to rejoin the Tigers. But the 33-year-old accepted an assignment to Triple-A.

He has made two starts for the Round Rock Express and has a 3.24 ERA in 8 1/3 innings without a win-loss record.

While with the Rangers, Yang made his first start in early May in place of injured starter Kohei Arihara. Yang then got three consecutive starts later that month.

But he failed to capitalize on that opportunity to stick around, losing his last three starts in May before being sent back to the bullpen. Yang went a dozen days between his last start and his next bullpen appearance.

Yang was the regular season and the Korean Series MVP in the KBO in 2017 and was one of the most consistent starters here for the better part of the last decade.

Yang first tried to reach the majors in 2014 through the posting process, and the Rangers put in a bid for the pitcher during the silent auction. The Tigers pulled him back from the market, and Yang would pitch six more years in the KBO.

In those six seasons, Yang led all KBO pitchers with 85 wins, 10 complete games, 925 strikeouts and 1,119 1/3 innings pitched.

In 2020, Yang was 11-10 with a 4.70 ERA, his worst mark as a full-time starter. But Yang also threw 172 1/3 innings, further cementing his reputation as the KBO’s premier workhorse with his seventh consecutive season of at least 170 innings pitched.