Kansas City Royals catching prospect Um Hyung-chan was named the top South Korean high school catcher of the year Thursday.
Um was the winner of the Best Catcher category at the sixth annual Lee Man-soo Awards, named after the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) catching legend.
Um, backstop for Gyeonggi Commercial High School in Seoul, signed with the Royals in July. He batted .390/.446/.585 with three home runs, 30 RBIs and 22 runs scored in 21 games in 2022. Um has also been known for a strong throwing arm from behind the plate.
The 18-year-old will be following in the footsteps of his father, Um Jong-soo, who caught for the Atlanta Braves' Class A-Advanced affiliate in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, in 2001. The Ums are the first South Korean father-son duo to sign with a major league organization.
Um received 1 million won (US$784) in prize money and 4 million won worth of baseball equipment. The teenager said he would donate the money to efforts helping people with developmental disabilities and send his baseball equipment to Laos, a country where Lee has been trying to help baseball grow.
Lee, considered one of the top catchers in KBO history, has been recognizing best backstops in high school since 2017. Um is the first player to win the Best Catcher award after signing with a major league club.
Um, who is proficient in English, recently played in the instructional league in the United States and said he came away feeling confident he could communicate with English-speaking teammates in the new country.
"If I continue to work hard until spring training next year, I should be able to enjoy my time in the US," Um said after accepting his award. "Lee Man-soo is a role model for all catchers. I will try to be a successful player in the U.S., too."
Um's father, who attended the ceremony, is a coach on his son's team. The senior Um said, while he didn't mind his son picking up baseball, he wanted the junior Um to play a different position than his father.
"I've been a catcher myself, and I know just how difficult it is to play there," the father said. "But ultimately, I wanted him to decide on his own future. Now that he has chosen to go to the U.S., I hope he becomes the first Korean catcher in the majors."
The son said his father's misgivings about the catching position only fueled his drive to excel behind the plate.
"Every baseball player wants to play in the majors. I am confident in every part of my game, be it hitting, fielding and baserunning," the junior Um said. "I know I will have my share of failures, but I will try to learn from my experience going forward."
The teen catcher said he is inspired by a famous father-son duo from football, Son Woong-jung and Son Heung-min.
"Like that pair, I hope my father and I can give South Korean fans hope," Um Hyungchan said."
The annual awards also recognize high school catchers who hit the most home runs in the given year. The 2022 winner was Kim Beom-seok of Kyungnam High School, who launched 10 home runs in 25 games.
Kim, the seventh overall draft choice by the LG Twins this year, is the first to reach double figures in homers since the wooden bat was put in play in high school baseball in 2004. (Yonhap)