Years ago, nearly 8,000 miles away, Jen-Ho Tseng found out the Cubs already knew who he was.
“The Cubs’ scout in Taiwan, Steve Wilson, he started watching me in middle school, and then I was observed by him in high school,” Tseng, a Cougars pitcher, said through his translator Fox Sung.
Wilson, a former Cubs pitcher, was the Cubs’ Pacific Rim coordinator as Tseng grew up in Taipei, Taiwan. He kept tabs on Tseng through high school, with the Cubs eventually landing him with a $1.625-million signing bonus last July, one of Wilson’s final acts before leaving to the Yankees’ organization.
The Cubs made that move despite Tseng’s struggles in the World Baseball Classic in March. Prior to the WBC, many thought he was baseball’s best international prospect.
When he arrived in America for spring training, nobody quite knew where the 6-1, 210-pound 19-year-old would wind up this season. Many assumed he would stay behind in Mesa, Ariz. for extended spring training, maybe getting his feet wet in rookie ball or short-season Class A Boise.
But he was so impressive, the Cubs decided to have him make the leap to full-season ball in Kane County this year.
“We feel that even though he’s a young kid, he’s mature enough to handle it, so here he is,” Cougars pitching coach David Rosario said. “We’re talking about a kid, even though he’s young, he’s pretty polished, and he’s got good stuff.
“He might be a little immature in terms of learning how to attack hitters and baseball instincts and sequencing, but that’s what we’re here for.”
Tseng’s repertoire is solid and diverse. His fastball can touch 93, his curveball is above average and his changeup is widely regarded by scouts as his best pitch.
“The thing about pitching in (the Midwest League) is you have to throw strikes with your fastball and have a secondary pitch you can use as an out pitch,” Rosario said. “This kid has command of three pitches. He can throw strikes with his fastball, breaking ball and changeup. Both of his secondary pitches have a lot of quality.”
In the Cougars’ home opener on April 8, Tseng took the mound for the first time as a professional. HE went five innings, allowing three runs on eight hits, walking nobody and striking out five.
“I was nervous,” Tseng said. “The first inning, I was nervous, but after the first inning, I was kind of relaxed.”
In a new country, with his friends and family trying to track his progress on a 13-hour time difference, Tseng said that his favorite things at Kane County are the food at the concession stand and the Cougars’ mascot, Ozzie.
But the most important thing to him is the opportunity that stands in front of him.
“I think I’m pretty lucky, and I want to capitalize on the opportunity and perform well on the field,” Tseng said.