Chinese Taipei players gain big league attention
National team roster will have greater US presence in the future
KAOHSIUNG, Taiwan -- After each game of the 2011 Taiwan All-Star Series, the skipper for the visiting team from Major League Baseball has been asked the same question, and each night, his answer has been the same.
Taiwanese reporters ask San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy if he is impressed with the level of play that he's seen from the MLB All-Stars' opponent, the Chinese Taipei national team, and he responds quickly and honestly: yes, he is. Very much so.
"They really play hard, and they play with a lot of heart," Bochy said. "They're getting better and better, and it's exciting for the fans of Taiwan."
Bochy might not know the statistics and backgrounds of each player on the squad that is managed by Wei-Chen Chen, but it's likely that he will know quite a few of their names within a few years. Several of the players suiting up for the current Chinese Taipei team will soon arrive as prospects in the Minor League systems of big league clubs. With the way the sport is improving in this island nation, many more could arrive within the next decade.
In addition to players with Major League experience such as headliner Chien-Ming Wang of the Nationals and former Tigers left-hander Fu-Te Ni, the current iteration of the Chinese Taipei roster has some names that have already cracked the scouting radar.
Center fielder Che-Hsuan Lin, who is property of the Boston Red Sox, split time between Double-A and Triple-A last year, finishing up in Triple-A Pawtucket. Lin, who turned 23 in September, was the MVP of the All-Star Futures Game in Yankee Stadium in 2008. He is a speed-oriented offensive player who has turned heads with his defense.
Red Sox outfielder Josh Reddick, who is part of the All-Star team that is playing for MLB on this tour, played with Lin in the Minors and echoed that sentiment in a big way.
"He's got the best arm I've ever seen," Reddick said. "The accuracy is not 100 percent there yet, but I've seen him make throws from the warning track to third on one hop and throw a guy out at second, so it's pretty unreal to see what he can do.
"He's also a great leadoff hitter, he can steal bases, he can hit for contact, so once he learns to develop a little bit of power, I think that's the only step he needs. But he runs like a deer out in the outfield and is so smooth."
Two more exciting prospects on display here are in the Cubs system.
Twenty-year-old outfielder Pin-Chieh Chen, who has been playing second base for the Chinese Taipei team this week, hit .301 with 20 stolen bases in 60 games for short-season Boise of the Northwest League. His Boise teammate, Chinese Taipei starter Yao-Lin Wang, had a 3.22 ERA in 14 starts for Boise and struck out 77 batters in 67 innings. He turns 21 in February.
And the Indians think so highly of 23-year-old catcher Chun-Hsiu Chen, who hit 16 homers and drove in 70 runs for Double-A Akron in 2011, that they sent an assistant of scouting operations, Jason Lynn, to monitor his use and progress while keeping an eye out for more Taiwanese talent.
"Chen made it to the Futures Game in 2010, and he's an important player for us," Lynn said. "Certainly there's some development left for him, but I think he's got a pretty promising future ahead of him if he continues to get better."
Others who could find themselves in similar situations to shine are 20-year-old shortstop Chih Fang Pan, who hit .336 for the Oakland A's short-season A-ball team in Vermont, and 20-year-old third baseman Fu-Lin Kuo, who drove in 23 runs in 34 games for the Yankees' Gulf Coast affiliate in 2011.
"You just get the feeling that the Chinese Taipei team is getting ready to kind of explode and get a lot of these young players into Major League Baseball," MLB Asia vice president Jim Small said.
"Especially for being an island of 20 million people, I think Taiwan punches above its weight already. So I think you're looking at that next wave coming in the next year or two."
"It's come a long way," Lynn added. "I think the grassroots program in Taiwan is better, and you're seeing it with some of these younger guys. Hopefully they can take the next step."