‘Living on a loaf of bread’ is a thing of the past Improved minor league infrastructure, top prospects headed to the U.S. didn’t just happen
We no longer impose hardship. Gone are the days of living on a single piece of bread and sharing a house with three or four players. The March 2022 Major League Baseball (MLB) labor agreement significantly improved the treatment of minor league players. “Don’t struggle over there, do well here and be treated well,” was once a ritual for Korean high school players looking toward the American stage.메이저놀이터
For the second year in a row, a top high school athlete crossed the Pacific. A year ago, Duksugo’s Shim Jun-seok and Masan Yongmago’s Jang Hyun-seok went straight to the big leagues without submitting their KBO draft applications. Just as Shim joined Pittsburgh in January, Jang will likely sign a contract with an MLB team next January.
In the past, the KBO’s second-tier environment has been better than the minor leagues in every way except for contract money. In MLB, players in their late teens who are just breaking in get some attention in the Rookie League. But when you’re in your 20s and you get promoted to Single-A, Double-A, and so on, you have to start being on your own.
They have to provide for themselves, and the average Single-A player makes only $11,000 ($14,300). Double-A averaged $13,800 and Triple-A averaged $17,500, far below the KBO’s minimum salary of 30 million won.
With three or four players sharing an apartment, they had to split the rent and save as much as possible on food. They survived on so-called “tear-soaked bread” while watching the world’s top stage.
After the labor agreement, a lot changed. Single-A players’ salaries rose to $27,000, Double-A to $32.5 million, and Triple-A to $358 million. The team provides housing, and single rooms are standard. Nutritious meals before and after games are also provided free of charge by the club. Players from outside the United States are also required to study English.
However, it has narrowed the door to the pros. There are limits on the amount of money that can be given to international prospects and the size of the draft for amateur players in the U.S. has been reduced from 40 rounds to 20 rounds. Instead of drafting fewer players than in the past, the league has decided to treat them better.
Minor leaguers are also breaking into the big leagues faster than ever before. In the case of Shim Jun-seok, who was drafted in January 2023, he is expected to make his MLB debut in 2025 or 2026 at the earliest, barring injury. In the past, it took players like Shin-Soo Choo four or five years to break out in the minor leagues, but now it’s not uncommon for players to reach the MLB within three years of joining the organization. This is especially true for top prospects.
Even Korean players with military service have three years to make it to the big leagues. If they don’t make it, they can return to Korea and serve a two-year grace period before being eligible for the KBO draft. Jin Woo-young, who will enter the 2024 rookie draft in September, joined Kansas City in 2019 and played in the minors until 2021, when he was released. He returned to South Korea in December of that year to serve in the military.
He is 22 years old. He’s a college graduate, and he’s entering the KBO draft after completing his military service. From the age of 23, players can dedicate themselves exclusively to the KBO.
It’s hard to predict how Sim and Jang will fare in the United States. But there’s no denying that the improved minor league environment is a positive for high school prospects. Cases like Seoul High’s Lee Chansol, who signed a $300,000 contract with Boston last month, could continue to happen.