Taiwanese pair share common goal
Dodgers' Hu, Mariners' Chen thriving as position prospects
PITTSBURGH -- Two top Taiwanese prospects, shortstop Chun Lung Hu of the Dodgers system and Yung Chi Chen from the Mariners chain, received an introduction of sorts during Sunday's XM Satellite Radio All-Star Futures Game at PNC Park.
It's not like they don't know one another -- they've played together in international competitions, including the World Baseball Classic this past spring, and they share a place and train together during the offseason.
But before Sunday, when they were in the starting lineup for the World against the U.S., they weren't as familiar in a baseball sense as one would have expected.
"Just this year, [I'm playing] second base," Chen said. "Before, I played third. This is the first time we played second and shortstop in the same game, and this is the first time we've played together in America."
The two may have had to cross an ocean and get invited to an All-Star-style game to play together, but it may not be long before Taiwanese players have a greater influence at baseball's highest level. Before this season, just four Taiwanese players had appeared in a Major League game, and just one, outfielder Ching-Fen Chen, was not a pitcher, so it's significant to have two starting at positions in the Futures Game.
Hu, 22, and Chen, who turns 23 on Thursday, are each playing in Double-A. Hu is batting .263 out of the No. 1 and No. 2 spots for a Jacksonville team loaded with prospects. Hu's experience in international games has given him confidence to be a take-charge infielder, trimming his learning curve.
"He has tremendous hands, and there are not many balls that he doesn't catch that are hit to him," said Jacksonville manager John Shoemaker. "He's learning a lot about positioning in Double-A, playing teams five games in a row. You find out who's hitting the ball well. Not just because it's a lefty do you play everybody up the middle. It's finding out about different situations, and he's learning quite quickly."
Taiwan was eliminated from the World Baseball Classic in pool play in Tokyo, but Hu believes that the time he spent in the tournament has made him a better player.
"I'm getting ready, but I don't know when," Hu said. "I never think about that. I just keep going, working hard to do my job here and do it better."
Hu is hoping that more Taiwanese players can bring their talents to pro ball.
"We get on base," Hu said. "We're not power hitters. We can run and steal a base."
Chen batted .342 with five home runs and 48 RBIs at Class A Modesto through June 24, then he was called up to Double-A San Antonio.
Going into Sunday, his batting average was high enough and he had enough plate appearances to be tied for the Class A California League lead in hitting. He said that his hitting is "so-so" at San Antonio, where he has a .241 average with one homer and two RBIs in seven games.
Chen said that in good times and bad, he has an ally in Hu, and they keep in touch.
"I play for the Mariners and he plays for the Dodgers, and with hitting and defense, we trade information," Chen said. "This is good for me and good for Hu."
It's always good getting a new introduction to a close friend.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.