2 strikes and no balls with no runners out in the 6th inning. He hit a home run with his team leading 1-0. A mistake that came out with only one step left before meeting the winning pitcher requirements, and eventually lost the lead. Even though it’s regrettable, I smile once. The same goes for getting a hit or sending a runner out. After facing the next hitter with a uniformly bright expression, he puts the ball vigorously toward the border line again. This is the story of Yoon Young-chul, a 19-year-old left-handed pitcher who got a spot as a starting pitcher for the KIA Tigers within two months of his professional debut.스포츠토토
Yoon Young-cheol, who had been known as the “left-handed ace” since his high school baseball days before joining, was nominated by the KIA with the 2nd overall pick in the 1st round of the 2023 KBO Rookie Draft. He has started all eight games he has played since his professional debut on April 15th. In his first game, he went through a harsh introductory ceremony, but he is growing terribly with his ability to adapt quickly. As the number of innings digested gradually increased, now we are stably digesting more than 5 innings each. His earned run average, which was 4.85 in April, dropped to 2.03 in May. In his most recent match against KT Wiz on the 31st, he pitched a good fight with 1 run in 5⅓ innings and won his third victory of the season.
What does it look like under the mound? On the 25th of last month, I met Yoon Young-chul at a cafe in Dunsan-dong, Daejeon. It was the day after he overcame the last-minute home run crisis and achieved his first quality start in his debut (QS, 6 innings or more, 3 earned runs or less). As soon as he said congratulations, he shook his head with a face full of regret. He opened his mouth, saying, “I am happy, but honestly, I am more disappointed,” and chewed from the moment of the painful loss, saying, “I hit a home run because the ball I was trying to take out went into the middle.”
Although he doesn’t seem to be too concerned with the mistaken pitch, Yoon Young-chul starts analyzing immediately if the pitch doesn’t go as intended. He tends to trust the intuition on the mound and the judgment of the catcher rather than analysis through video. “There are many things that cannot be seen in the video,” he says. “The characteristic factors that differ from hitter to hitter, such as the distance from the plate and the size of the swing, are mostly seen on the mound. After checking that, choose a pitch that you think you can’t hit and throw it. The first batter I met unconditionally believes in the catcher.”
In any match, there is bound to be tension at first. “The first episode is always the key,” he said. Again, analysis comes first. While aiming at the catcher’s chest and looking at the strike judgment tendency of the day, the ball is removed one by one to adjust the zero point. Once the centripetal is grasped, the next round is easy. Yoon Young-chul smiled, saying, “If you get through the first episode well, you won’t be very nervous.”
Of course, there are times when it gets twisted from the first episode. His debut match against Kiwoom Heroes on April 15 was just like that. At that time, Yoon Yeong-cheol allowed a walk on base after a 9-pitch game against lead hitter Lee Yong-gyu, and gave up a large amount of 5 runs in the first inning alone. In the end, he was judged early in the 4th inning, and the moment he came down the mound, he smiled widely. It is Yoon Young-cheol’s own habit to calm his mind. When the game didn’t go well, he said, “I try to shake it off as quickly as possible.” This means that mind control is as important as analysis to make up for mistakes.
“If you get a hit, ask the catcher first. He was driven into the middle. If that’s the case, he goes, ‘You’ll have to throw well next time’ and passes it. If the hitter hits well even though he threw well, he says ‘the hitter hit well’ and passes it. I think I’m trying to change my mind to the good side as soon as possible.”
“I think the reason why he smiles a lot on the mound is because he is trying to be at ease. When facing a batter, he tends to think to himself, ‘This will be fun’. If you have a stiff expression, you look down and nervous, so I smile on purpose. When I was young, I was often scolded for laughing. I used to get scolded by the coaches who taught me since elementary school, saying, ‘Why are you always smiling?’ I think it’s become a habit now, so I smile naturally.”
In fact, what is mentioned more often as Yoon’s strengths are his stable command and ability to manage the game. He doesn’t throw away many balls, and even if he accidentally hits a foul home run, he immediately stabs his fastball into his body. The word “not like a rookie” follows the appearance of a matchmaker of a new professional who has just graduated from high school.
The source of his confidence is, of course, his pitching. Yun Yeong-cheol cited his greatest strength in pitching and said, “I can manage the game well and reduce the number of pitches only when I have a good pitch.” If there is a secret, it is ‘targeting practice’ that has been steadily done since childhood. He started playing baseball in earnest in the second grade of elementary school, but he was close to baseball since childhood, when his memory was fuzzy. On weekends, he visited the Seoul Mok-dong baseball field near his house with his family and played catch with his brother in the parking lot whenever there was a break. Yoon Young-cheol recalled that time, saying, “I set a target and threw it again and again.”
KIA coach Kim Jong-guk is also proudly watching Yoon Young-cheol, who has established himself as a professional player 10 years after that. Coach Kim often says, “It’s enough to block 3 runs in 5 innings” before Yun Young-chul’s start. However, it is Yun Young-cheol who tries to exceed the coach’s expectations every game. He is now steadily lifting weights to boost his velocity. He continues to throw curveballs that are difficult to control. Manager Kim said, “I’m adapting well to the league” to Yun Young-cheol’s performance.
As the coach said, he is adapting to his team while receiving attention from KIA fans after joining. The most active in helping him adapt is Yang Hyeon-jong, the ‘great pitcher’. Yoon Young-chul’s uniform number was also recommended by him. Yoon Young-cheol chose number 13 among the candidates Hyeon-jong Yang showed, saying that the number worn by famous left-handed pitchers.
“As soon as I picked the number, (Senior Hyeonjong) said, ‘Then you’re just going to stick with this number until you retire?’ So, I intend to do that as much as possible.”
He was cautious in a situation where he was being discussed as a potential candidate for the Rookie of the Year title. Yoon Yeong-chul drew the line, saying, “Since I am busy completing the given game, I have no time to worry about my competitors.” Regarding Kim Seo-hyun, a pitcher of the same age as the Hanwha Eagles, a competitor, he said, “Seo-hyun has a different position and a different throwing type.” Then, when asked to predict who would ride, he expressed his confidence, saying, “I still have to take it.”
What is the goal of a rookie pitcher who has just taken his first steps? Yoon Young-chul said, “I originally thought of ‘5 wins’ as my goal for this season.” At a faster pace than expected, he set his goal, saying, “I think I will be able to achieve 5 wins soon.” “I want to win and win awards, but my biggest goal right now is to play in Gwangju for a long time without injury.”