Pirates Make Taiwan Connection; Sign Three

Brian WolffCorrespondent IJuly 3, 2009

The Pirates have been puttng an emphasis on their international scouting and development programs in recent years and it payed off as they were able to sign three Taiwanese-born prospects to start of the international signing period.

The three recent high school graduates were scouted by a number of major league teams.

A pair of players were signed out of Xiyuan Taichung City High School.

Right-handed pitcher Sheng-qin Hong, at six-feet tall and 165 pounds is on the thin side, but throws a 90 MPH fastball, a curve and a changeup, with good mechanics. Once he gets into a weight program and fills out, the Pirates can expect his velocity to increase a bit. Hong described baseball as the ‘greatest of American dreams.’

The Pirates also signed outfielder Pin-Hong Ji, who at only 5-feet-7 and 143 pounds is rather undersized but is particularly fast on the bases. He, like Hong, is just an 18-year-old so the Pirates believe he still has time to fill out.

In a press conference surrounding the signing, Ji said he is ‘very happy to be signed by the Pirates and hopes to bring honor to Taiwan.’ Pirate scouts said he is thin but he is extremely fast (3.9 seconds from home base to first), is excellent on defense and is a strong candidate to develop into a top-level defensive outfielder.

Ji was a starter on the 2005 Xiyuan 13-14 Pony League World Series Champion, and on the 2007 National Champion of the IBA Senior League.

Recognizing that the two players have not yet physically matured, they were signed to modest contracts, but they are eager to begin developing their skills within the Pirates organization.

The third signee was first baseman Ji-wei Xu, age 17, who attended Kuang Fu High School. Xu was discovered by accident. A group of major league scouts had been in Taiwan scouting a pitcher in a game in December of last year. In the game Xu launched a home run that ricocheted of an outfield pole, catching the scouts attentions. One scout reportedly gave him the nickname, “Little Jim Thome.”

Xu’s size and posture have also been compared to Jason Giambi. He is just shy of six feet and weighs 202 pounds.

Xu was signed by the Pirates based on his arm strength and hitting power.

The three will be sent to the Major League Baseball Academy in Queensland, Australia for at least a couple months, where they can work on their skills and give them more time to develop physically, while also picking up a bit of English. Xu could be assigned in the Pirates farm system as soon as September. Ji and Hong might not be assigned until next spring.

Taiwan has been a powerhouse in junior league World Series competitions in recent years and is one of three areas that have developed major-league baseball programs in Asia, along with Japan and South Korea.

Above: Shen-qin Hong (left) and outfielder Pin-hong Ji.

Tina Li assisted in the research for this story.