International Free Agent Profile: Jen-Ho Tseng, Starting Pitcher

Victor Decolongon

Taiwanese rookie Jen-Ho Tseng has stated that he is looking to sign with an MLB club before he graduates high school. Is the 18-year-old worth dipping into the Mets' 2012-2013 international free agent signing bonus pool?

Jen-Ho Tseng, born October 3, 1994 in Kaohsiung City, Taiwan, is a right-handed pitcher who is a member of the Chinese Taipei National Baseball Team and on the Chinese Taipei World Baseball Classic roster.

Despitethe fact that he's just 18 years old and has never technically played professionally in his native Taiwan, Tseng is interested in signing with an MLB team. According to the Taiwanese newspaper Apple Daily, he wants to sign with an MLB team before he graduates from high school in June so he can directly transition from his academic pursuits to pitching full time. Tseng has not said what he will do if no MLB team extends a contract, but if he is ignored, he will presumably play ball for the Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL)

Tseng stands tall at 6’1" and weighs an even 200 pounds. The right-hander employs a wide assortment of pitches, including a slider, sinker, change-up and knuckle curve. His fastball sits in the low 90s and tops out in the mid 90s. As of 2012, his fastest fastball was clocked at 95 mph. As he ages, theoretically, he might add a little bit more zip to the pitch. At the same time, however, at 200 pounds, there is the chance that he does not fill out any more and the pitch speed remains the same.

Looking at his off-speed offerings, it's likely that a MLB/MiLB pitching coach would have Tseng remove certain pitches from his regular arsenal to focus on others and better fit certain pitching archetypes: the fastball/change-up combo, the focus on the sinker and getting groundball outs, or scrapping the slider in favor of the curve, or vice-versa.

Tseng throws from a ¾ delivery, and as is standard in Asia, he employs a stop in his delivery. He also reminds me a great deal of Steve Traschel, not because of anything he throws or how he throws his pitches, but because he pitches very slowly. In videos I've watched, it seems that a minimum of ten seconds pass between when he gets the ball back from his catcher and when the ball leaves his hand in his delivery.

Another observation on his pitching motion is that he has no real stride. Having watched my fair share of Mets broadcasts, I’ve heard Tom Seaver interviewed, and anyone who has should know of his love for the "drop-and-drive." Tseng plants his lead foot seemingly only a few inches from the rubber and doesn't particularly bend his knee or get low, bestowing additional strength from his leg/trunk into his pitches.

Because of his age, there is very little professional pitching data out there on Tseng. In 2012, he took part in the 2012 World Junior Championship, an international competition for amateur players under 18. He made three starts and appeared in six games in total. In them, he went 3-0 with a 0.84 ERA, 22 strikeouts, 2 walks, and 12 hits in 21.1 innings. His 22 strikeouts were second most in the competition; he trailed only Shintaro Fujinami, the second-overall 2012 NPB draftee behind Shohei Otani.

Tseng also made appearances with the Chinese Taipei National Baseball Team during the 2012 Asian Baseball Championship — one start, six shutout innings — and during the 2013 World Baseball Classic qualifiers — one inning, one walk, two strikeouts. In both competitions, he was the youngest player in the game and the only high school student.

Does He Make Sense For The Mets?

The timing of Jen-Ho’s high school graduation is important. He is set to graduate in June. The new collective bargaining agreement states that each international free agent signing period starts on July 2 and ends on June 15, with the time in between the two dates being a "closed period" during which no official signings can take place

In other words, July 2, 2012, to June 15, 2013, constitutes one complete "cycle," and July 2, 2013, to June 15, 2014, constitutes another. If Tseng is putting himself out there to be signed by a MLB club, he would sign before June, meaning he'll be included in the 2012-13 cycle.

As of the time of this writing, the Mets have signed three international amateur players: shortstops Ahmed Rosario and Miguel Patino and second baseman Franklin Correa. Rosario was given the largest bonus afforded to an international amateur by the organization, $1.75 million, beating out the previous record of $1.3 million given to Fernando Martinez. Patino was given $135,000. The details of the Correa’s bonus have not been made public, but for simplicity’s sake, let’s assume that it, too, is $135,000. That's a sum of $1.57 million spent out of the Mets’ total $2.9 million signing bonus pool. The Mets would have enough money to give Tsang a contract up to roughly $1.5 million dollars.

If Tseng is not signed during the 2012-13 cycle, a few more complications arise. First and foremost, does he join the CPBL? If so, he will be contractually obligated to play for another team and will not be available to any MLB team. If he is available, he will contend with every other international amateur eligible to sign with a team during the 2013-14 cycle. The Mets might assess some other available talent as a once-in-a-lifetime player and blow all of their bonus pool on him.

Regardless of when he signs, the bigger question is how much money he'll get. Is he more likely to get a big deal worth a million or two dollars or just a couple hundred thousand dollars? Here's a brief history of Taiwanese players who signed with MLB organizations:

Player Year Team Amount
Chin-Feng Chen 1999 Dodgers $680,000
Hong-Chih Kuo 1999 Dodgers $1,250,000
Chien-Ming Wang 2000 Yankees $1,900,000
Tzu-Kai Chiu 2007 Reds $200,000
Che-Hsuan Lin 2007 Red Sox $400,000
Chun-Hsiu Chen 2007 Indians $300,000
Chih-Fang Pan 2010 Athletics $125,000
Tzu-Wei Lin 2012 Red Sox $2,050,000
Ping-Hsueh Chen 2012 Indians $60,000

For the most part, Taiwanese amateurs have been relatively cheap — note that the above list is nowhere near comprehensive, but I wasn't cherry-picking names. I don’t have enough knowledge of Taiwanese baseball, I am humble enough to admit, nor do I have enough free time to track down every signing and then list only the ones I wanted!

Of the big-money signings, two — Kuo and Wang — took place over a decade ago, when the rules were different. The other, Lin, is something of an outlier; he was ranked as one of the top international free agents in 2012 because of his combination of raw talent and refined skill, and he's represented by Scott Boras.

All of the other signings have generally been in the low end of the spectrum. Of note is Ping-Hsueh Chen and his $60,000 signing bonus, for two reasons: Itt took place in 2012, under the new CBA agreement, and I personally think that he is the most similar to Tseng in terms of body type, velocity, and his pitches.

In the end, there’s no reason the Mets shouldn't be interested in signing the young righty. In an era that highly values prospects, there’s no reason not to bolster the ranks and bring another potential impact prospect aboard. Is his theoretical price a deterrent? If he is willing to sign with the Mets for peanuts, there’s no reason the Mets shouldn't sign him. If he is asking more, at what point does he becomes too expensive?

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