The Braves officially welcomed international signee Jihwan Bae at SunTrust Park on Saturday.
The 18-year-old Korean shortstop is regarded as one of the better prospects from his country in recent years, and the Braves regarded him as the best prospect in the Pacific.
“The Braves were scouting me for a long time, and they gave me the opportunity, and that’s why I’m here,” Bae said through an interpreter. “(I’m here because of) the interest they gave me for a long time and the trust I got to believe in the team.”
Trying to broaden its reach in Asia, Bae stood out to the organization. It’s the Braves’ first signing of a player that young from Asia in roughly 20 years, according to general manager John Coppolella.
Bae likely signed for around $300,000 bonus, the Braves’ spending limit after exceeding their bonus pool a season ago to sign highly touted prospects such as Kevin Maitan.
“He was a player whom we’d shown interest in for a long time,” Coppolella said. “(Special assistant) Chad (MacDonald) was there and saw him and did a great job getting it done. He’s a really good young player, 18 years old, can really run, shortstop, left-handed hitter. It was a big signing for us.”
MacDonald, who joined the Braves in 2014, is involved with all the Braves’ amateur, international and professional scouting. He’s spent over two decades in baseball, most recently with the Padres as an assistant general manager of player personnel.
In San Diego, MacDonald signed current Nationals shortstop Trae Turner, who MacDonald likens to Bae. MacDonald sees Bae growing into a complete player similar to Turner, who’s regarded as one of the better shortstops in baseball.
“It’s an elite runner, top-of-the-scale runner,” MacDonald said. “He’s very athletic. He stays at shortstop, he’s going to be a solid to plus defender there. His bat-to-ball skills are really good. There’s more power in the bat. If everything clicks, we have a left-handed version of Trae Turner, who I signed in San Diego. Again, maybe not that much power, but certainly the impact speed and defense, with bat-to-ball skills and a left-handed hitter.
“We’ve scouted him for a couple years, developed the relationship there. We felt like he’s the best prospect over there this year. It works out that it happened.”
Bae said his favorite player to watch is Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager, who broke into the majors at 21 years old. That challenge for Bae could begin as early as next week.
“There’s a chance (Bae) will go down with us to instructs (Instructional League) on Monday, and he will be a part of the Braves growing forward,” Coppolella said. “We’ll see where it leads for the 2018 season. Thrilled to have this signing. It’s the first time we’ve got into Asia in a long time. And we haven’t signed a player his age from Asia in, I think, close to 20 years. We’re thrilled to have him as a player with the Braves.”
Coppolella and MacDonald hope this is the start of a larger Braves presence in Asia.
“We want to be present everywhere that there’s good players, wherever they are on planet Earth,” MacDonald said. “And there are good players over there. They care, they’re passionate. They’re work ethic is really good and we’ve got terrific guys on the ground to scout them over there.”