"I was drafted in the first round in Korean baseball," said left-hander Yoon-Hee Nam, a native of Seoul, South Korea. "But I just wanted to play the best competition."
Nam aspired to play Major League Baseball in the United States. So, he set-up a tryout with a few organizations and headed west.
"I grabbed a bag with my father and called my friend and we talked to a couple of Major League teams," he said. "They told me to just come over here and try out."
Four teams—the Rangers, Mariners, Padres, and Red Sox—attended Nam's tryout in Arizona. It wasn't easy for Nam, as it was the first time he'd ever been to the U.S.
"I was definitely nervous," Nam said. "It was a different scene, different culture, language, food, and people. Everything is different. I was so nervous. But it was also exciting at the same time."
The actual tryout was only the beginning of the nerve-wrecking for Nam. As the time passed, he was beginning to feel unsure that he would get that shot to pitch in the states.
"It was a pretty long time [before the Rangers called me back]," he explained. "Like a couple of months. That time was pretty though. I was nervous. After the tryout, two months later, they called me and said they wanted me to sign with them."
When the Rangers finally offered Nam a contract, it didn't take him long to sign. Although he lived across the country, he had routinely watched the Rangers on television because of Chan Ho Park.
"Every Korean baseball player is on TV in Korea," he said. "Park is obviously from Korea. I was always watching the big leagues since elementary school. I saw Randy Johnson throw when I was nine or ten or something like that."
The club assigned Nam to the rookie-level AZL Rangers for his first season. Working out of the bullpen, the southpaw posted a 4-1 record with a 3.62 earned-run average in 32.1 innings. He surrendered just 32 hits while walking four and striking out 35.
Nam's numbers were impressive, especially because it wasn't exactly easy for him to communicate with his coaches and teammates.
|Nam is the most impressive of the Rangers' recent Pacific Rim signings.|
Now two years later, the 22-year-old is not only nearly fluent in English [this interview was conducted without a translator], but he is also able to communicate with the Spanish-speaking players.
"I was in the Dominican Republic for 45 days," he said. "There are no Americans there. It was all Latin guys, so I had to speak Spanish there. You have a lot of time there, like after the practice. Like six or seven hours. It was boring, so I learned a couple of words."
Following a solid, but unspectacular 2008 season with the Spokane Indians, Nam has developed into more than just a nice story.
He has broken out as a legitimate left-handed relief prospect in Hickory.
Nam has spent his 2009 season working largely out of the bullpen for the Rangers' Low-A club. In 83.0 innings, he has a 9-1 record with a 3.25 ERA. Nam has yielded just 66 hits [.212 BAA] while walking 31 and striking out 99.
Overall, Nam is pleased with his season, and he's trying to get away from the numbers game.
"I've been the same the last couple of years," Nam replied. "I just enjoy the game more. I'm not thinking about the stats. I used to worry so much, but this year I'm just enjoying the game and I believe in my stuff. I'm just playing."
Nam has good reason to believe in his stuff. Although it's far from overpowering, he is able to miss plenty of bats with his four-pitch arsenal.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound hurler's fastball is just 85-87 mph, but the velocity plays up because of the deception in his delivery. He also has a big-breaking 66-69 mph curveball that has baffled South Atlantic League hitters throughout the season. In addition, Nam mixes in a changeup that shows plus potential to go along with a developing slider.
Nam hasn't used his slider very often this season, but he wants to give hitters a different look occasionally.
Being a deception guy with above-average offspeed stuff but below-average velocity, Nam believes his four-pitch repertoire is a necessity.
"I'm trying to throw four pitches," he said. "When I see the batter, I want to make them confused. Not every pitch is perfect, but I'm trying to show them all four of my pitches."
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