1Tell us about your role as a Pro Scout for the Toronto Blue Jays. What does a typical day look like for you?
My job is simply to evaluate players at the pro level, whether is the Major or Minor League.
We usually get assigned an entire org that requires us to cover every player that is playing for them.
I also do roving and cross-checking work for any other minor league teams on the west coast.
I am also involved with the scouting the amateur and pros in the pacific rim, which are KBO and NPB.
My typical day is basically going to the ballpark and watching games and writing about those players. Pretty simple.
2In 2012, you were adamant about changing the KBOs lackluster eligibility rules for foreign players with Korean background, specifically Korean Americans, who could only sign as free agents. How has the situation evolved since then and how different is it for now for foreign players with similar backgrounds to yours trying to make the jump to overseas leagues?
The situation itself hasn’t changed too much since the rules remain the same, but there is definitely more awareness and acknowledgment from the KBO teams on the amount of Korean American players that are playing here in the States.
They are surprised that there are so many and I believe it won’t be too long before they will open up opportunities for them.
As for the making the jump, there is always going to be one whether it is the same nationality or not since there is a huge cultural difference.
Just cause you speak the language does not necessarily mean you understand the little intricacies and nuisances of what Korean baseball is about.
I would say it would be an easier transition if you grew up in more of a traditional Korean household but again, there is always going to be a transition period for anyone.
3As someone who has played independent ball in both North America and in Korea, do you think you have any sort of advantage when it comes to evaluating international players and determining if they have the makeup for the big leagues? Is there a specific trait you look for in international players, whether it’s related to athleticism, work ethic, personality, etc.?
I do think my experience in both leagues has given me the advantage when it comes to not only evaluating but also recruiting them since I can connect and related with them.
The one area that you really have to focus on is the makeup and understanding how they work.
They come from such a different culture and a specific way of doing things that if they aren’t open minded and really understand themselves, it is easy for the player to get lost, in which sets both sides up for failure.
4How does data fuel your evaluation of players in different pro leagues? Obviously, it’s hard to compare stats between different leagues, but with the major leagues so infatuated with numbers, are there specific statistical categories or trends that are comparable between the different leagues your assigned to?
Data in itself is a huge part of the evaluation process.
It is another tool to use in order to increase the accuracy of evaluating a player and it has been very helpful tool for me, personally.
In terms of applying it to the different pro leagues, you have to use it very specifically and look at certain data more than others.
For example, I think pitch modelling is one that is worth looking at since it is more of an individual stat and can predict if he can make the transition to the States.
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5When it comes to international ballplayers, how often does something like culture and personality come into play when determining which players would be able to make the transition? Do you think your personal experience (playing in America and Korea) helps with determining this? To add to that, what does the team (or even yourself) do to help guys coming from overseas adjust to the lifestyle and expectations of the MLB?
Understanding their culture and personality might be the biggest part of evaluating an international player.
Really understanding them and how they work will allow the team to make a more individualized plan to help them transition here to the States.
I do believe my experiences help in making not only an evaluation but also what kind of transition is needed.
Different teams do different things as every single player has different needs so it really is a case-by-case scenario.
6The Jays have a former KBO superstar in Hyun-Jin Ryu, who unfortunately suffered a significant injury recently. That being said, he’s established himself as an elite pitcher and respected veteran/leader on multiple pitching staffs. What can international players take from Ryu that could help them not only establish themselves performance wise, but also culturally in a much different environment? Also, how much do you think Ryu’s absence will be felt in the contending Jays’ clubhouse?
I think something that is really overshadowed by Ryu’s success is his open-mindedness and ability to make adjustments.
Ever since he got here, you can see how he has transformed himself as a pitcher and that is the result of him soaking in the coaching and all the data provided to him.
Culturally, you can see him integrate himself by allowing others to come into his space and both can learn from each other.
He’s been a great teammate since he joined the Jays, and also a mentor to a guy like Alek Manoah. His absence will be definitely felt.
Bilal's Final Thoughts
Stephen Yoo, Pro Scout for the Toronto Blue Jays shares how personality and culture influence the evaluation process. There are a lot of baseball leagues and players around the world, and a scout only has so much time and resources to identify who has the makeup for the big leagues. Stephen Yoo's journey through independent and pro ball in both the United States and South Korea gives him the edge when it comes to finding the guys who have the skills, personality, and openness to succeed in a different league. His efforts in raising the standard for foreign players in the KBO as well as his interactions and experiences with cultures on both sides of the pacific makes him an ideal scout for the Pacific Rim region. With a heavy influx of international players on the Blue Jays, Yoo's insight is invaluable when it comes to understanding who's fit for an MLB clubhouse and can make the jump to North America.