Kevin Huang can't share baseball war stories or crack jokes with his Augusta GreenJackets teammates, but his smile and work ethic have made the 20-year-old relief pitcher a clubhouse favorite.
Huang grew up in Taiwan and knows very little English, but the Jackets go out of their way to make him and Japanese reliever Ryo Kumagai (yo koo-ma-GUY) feel like part of the ballclub.
"Neither one of them know much English, but they understand the basics and we try to communicate with them through hand signals and actions," Jackets manager Arnie Beyeler said. "It makes it tough for them, but they're always smiling and they're both good kids who work hard."
Huang and Kumagai are the latest products of the Boston Red Sox's international scouting efforts in the Far East. Huang was signed for $60,000 out of high school in Taiwan, and had a strong debut in pro ball last season in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and short-season Lowell.
With a low-90s fastball and good curveball, Huang was a combined 5-4 with a 2.54 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 2001, and was rated as the 15th-best prospect in the organization by Baseball America.
He was born Jun-Chung Huang, but has gone by Kevin since his high school English teacher gave all her students American nicknames.
Kumagai, signed by the Red Sox in January for $450,000 out of Tokyo's Tohoku Fukushi University, is a submarine specialist in the mold of Diamondbacks closer Byung-Hyun Kim. His fastball was clocked as high as 94 mph in college last year, but his velocity has fallen to 89-91 this season. Baseball America ranked him as Boston's 23rd-best prospect.
Huang spent time on the disabled list this season with a sore shoulder, and is 4-0 with a 4.89 ERA and four saves in 20 appearances with the Jackets. Kumagai is 0-1 with a 3.60 ERA in nine games since a demotion from high-A Sarasota in June.
"Considering how tough it's got to be for them here, they've done a good job," Beyeler said. "Our Latin guys are always complaining about how tough it is for them here, but at least they've got each other. Kevin and Ryo have nothing, not even each other. But they go about their business. You don't even know they're here."
Center fielder Kris Coffey grew up in California and doesn't speak Chinese, but says he is able to communicate with Huang.
"I try and take care of him and help him out whenever I can," Coffey said. "We understand each other."
FORMER JACKETS: Two of the three former GreenJackets traded last winter by the Red Sox to the Cardinals for pitcher Dustin Hermanson are on the move again. Luis Garcia, who belted 20 home runs for the Jackets in 1999, was traded by the Cards to the Cleveland Indians for veteran pitcher Chuck Finley on Friday. The second former Jackets in that trade, Dustin Brisson, is back in the Red Sox organization at high-A Sarasota. Brisson was released by the Cardinals earlier this month after batting .190 at high-A Potomac. He batted .295 for the Jackets last year. The third, Rick Asadoorian, is batting .277 with five homers and 41 RBI at low-A Peoria. The 1999 first-round pick batted .212 and struck out 139 times in 406 at-bats with the Jackets last year.
LOCAL PLAYERS: Aiken High School product and Modesto A's pitcher Darvin Withers tossed the first complete game of his career and struck out a career-high 14 batters in a 3-1 win over San Jose on Monday. Withers, 22, spaced out three hits over nine innings and improved to 2-0 with a 0.40 ERA in July. He is 12th in the high-A California League with a 3.28 ERA.