Augusta GreenJackets right-hander Seung Song begins each start with a bow toward home plate, a sign of respect that is tradition in his native South Korea.
Given the way South Atlantic League hitters have regularly been bowing to Song this season, the Boston Red Sox might soon be tempted to see if the 20-year-old Korean phenom is ready to take his act to the next level.
With a 3-0 record and league-leading 1.09 ERA in 10 starts for the Jackets, Song clearly has been the most dominant pitcher in the pitching-rich SAL this season. A promotion to high Class A Sarasota sometime soon is a distinct possibility, especially if the 6-foot-1, 192-pounder continues to shine over the next month.
"There is talk of that, but that's up to Boston," Jackets manager Mike Boulanger said of a possible promotion for Song. "When it's time for the first half to be over here in the next three weeks, a decision will have to be made on whether they want to move him up and whether they think he is ready for the next level."
The Red Sox signed Song for $800,000 in February 1999 after emerging as the top amateur pitcher as a high school senior in Korea. Between the Gulf Coast League and the New York-Penn League the past two years, Song went 10-7 with a 2.62 ERA with 154 strikeouts and just 40 walks in 127 innings.
His command has been even more impressive this season, ashe has walked just 12 batters with 61 strikeouts in 58 innings. He has held the opposition to a .189 average.
Song has allowed two earned runs or less in each of his 10 starts this season and is coming off a 10-strikeout performance, where he scattered three hits over five innings in a 7-0 victory in Game 1 of a doubleheader at Charleston, W.Va., on Friday.
"Song is comparable to the best talent in the organization," Red Sox executive director of international operations Ray Poitivent told Baseball America recently. "He's a very impressive young man. He's mentally tough. Not many athletes are stronger with more emotional control. His character is top-notch."
So are his pitches. Song's fastball averages around 92-93 mph with good movement, and he already throws a curveball that scouts rate above-average major-league caliber to go with a strong changeup.
While command of his fastball never has been questioned, Song this season has exhibited excellent control of the other pitches, as well, which could be the key to his early advancement.
"He has good stuff, but a lot of guys have good stuff," Boulanger said. "The thing with Song is his command. He has tremendous command, and in my opinion, his command will be good at any level he pitches."
Though the Red Sox have a history of bringing young pitchers along slowly - as evidenced by the decision to allow 1999 first-round pick Brad Baker to spend the entire 2000 season in Augusta - Song is farther along in his development than most pitchers his age.
"He's advanced for his age in talent and experience," Poitivent said.
JACKETS ALUMNI: Former Jackets first baseman Derrick Lankford is back in the SAL with the Lakewood (N.J.) BlueClaws. Released by the Pirates in April after starting the year with Double-A Altoona, the Harrison, Tenn., native signed a free-agent contract with the Phillies, and is batting .274 with two homers and nine RBI in 23 games for Lakewood. Lankford set the Jackets home run record with 22 in 1998. ... Right-hander Josh Hancock, the former Auburn star who went 6-8 with a 3.80 ERA with the SAL champion Jackets in 1999, is 3-3 with a 4.70 ERA at Double-A Trenton. ... Left-hander Corey Spencer, who emerged as a prospect last season, went 1-0 with a pair of saves and did not allow a run in six games for Trenton. He is 2-1 with a 2.70 ERA and five saves. ... Outfielder Chris Warren, an SAL all-star last season, hit .455 with two home runs and five RBI in three games May 16-18 for high Class A Sarasota, and was batting .278 with five homers and 27 RBI through Friday. ... Right-hander Brad Baker, a first-rounder in 1999 and the Jackets' ace last year, is 4-2 with a 3.13 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 37 1/3 innings for Sarasota.
AROUND THE SAL: Asheville outfielder Brad Hawpe, a product of Louisiana State University, drove in runs in eight consecutive games (May 8-19), going 12-for-27 with four home runs and 11 RBI during that stretch. He raised his average to .318, fourth in the SAL and was second in the league with a .622 slugging percentage through Friday. ... Columbus right-hander Fernando Cabrera, a 6-foot-4 native of Puerto Rico, struck out a career-high 12 batters in seven innings in a 4-1 win over the Charleston RiverDogs May 18. Cabrera, a 10th-round pick of the Indians in 1999, improved to 2-0 in six starts at home and lowered his ERA at Golden Park to 1.27. ... Greensboro shortstop Deivi Mendez, one of the Yankees' top middle infield prospects, went 8-for-50 with no RBI in a 15-game span May 3-23, and is batting .212 on the season. ... Greensboro right-hander Julio DePaula, who was acquired by the Yankees in a trade with the Rockies earlier this season, is 5-0 with a 1.65 ERA in six starts for the Bats after starting the year with Asheville. His 75 strikeouts led the league through Friday.
Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425 or email@example.com