This is a continuation of the weekly series of of writing about a Cubs prospect profile. Early on, I will be writing about guys that Dave and I did not cover in our Prospect Ratings. Links for past ratings and past profiles at at the end. Additional links can also be found at the end of the article.
Who is Jae-Hoon Ha?
Jae-Hoon Ha was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2008 out of Jin Ju City, South Korea. He signed for a bonus of $225,000. He bagan his US professional career at Boise in 2009 at the age of 18. He was signed as a catcher and, reportedly, was moved to the outfield because he couldn't handle the throws behind the plate. He never actually played an official game at the position.
Ha was born October 29, 1990 in Jin Ju City. According to Baseball Reference, 14 position players and 12 pitchers from South Korea have played at the MLB level. All of them since 1994.
Ha bats and throws right-handed, has primarily played CF, but has played all the outfield positions. He's played 229 in CF, 154 in RF and 28 in LF. He's 6-1, 185 punds.
Where is he?
He's currently at AA Tennessee. He finished the 2011 season in Tennessee, played the entire 2012 season there and has returned to AA for another go at it. He has over 850 AA plate appearances. If things go well, and so far they are, he should be promoted to AAA Iowa soon.
Is he any good?
Ha's professional career got off to a rough start. I imagine some of them was him still trying to adjust to living in another country, as well as adjusting to a new position. He had 258 plate appearances at Boise and hit just .242/.264/.327. That's good for a .274 wOBA and a 59 wRC+.
Despite the poor performance, the Cubs must have liked what they saw from him. He was promoted to full season league A ball at Peoria and had a very good season. He had 309 plate appearances and a 118 wRC+.
In a little over half a season at HIgh A Daytona in 2011 he had a 102 wRC+. He was then promoted to AA Tennessee where he's remained since. He had 244 PA at Tennessee to finish the 2011 season and hit .283/.320/.403. Not bad. He was only 20 years old so a .325 wOBA and 93 wRC+ is actually pretty good. Especially for someone who played a premium defensive position.
It was at this time that I couldn't stop ignoring the horrible walk rate that Ha had over his career. It was only 3.5% in 1123 plate appearances. Add that to his lack of power and an outfielder who was already playing all 3 positions and I didn't like it. To be fair to his defense, which I had discounted since he hadn't remained in CF, Baseball America did say he was the best defensive outfielder in the Cubs system prior to the 2012 season. That's in relation to other Cubs minor league outfielders and not the league, but I've also read good things about his defense.
With just 44 stolen bases and a whopping 32 times caught stealing, it might be safe to say that either Ha is not a good baserunner, or that he lacks the speed to do it. I've read both. The other thing that alarmed me about Ha was that he had roughly a .150 ISO before reaching AA, which is good for a young CF. It dropped to .119 at AA in 2011.
Back at AA in 2012, Ha had a good season. His wRC+ last year 110 so he was better than the league. At just 21, that's impressive. Most important, his walk rate jumped to 9.5%. His strikeout rate jumped also and his power further declined though.
In 2013 he's hit as well as you'd expect anyone with the amount of playing time he's had at that level. He's hit .312/.413/.377, which is a .373 wOBA and a 135 wRC+. His walk rate has jumped to 12.1%, but his strikeout rate is now at 19.1% and he's shown almost no power at all so far this year. He has only 5 extra base hits and all of them have been doubles. He is 6 for 7 in stolen bases this year.
We're at the point with Ha where it's tough to take what he's doing at AA too seriously. Some of it could be improvement and some of it could just be familiarity with the league's pitching.
OV Prospect Rating
He's played nearly 2 full seasons in AA and should be hitting quite well. We've seen some better numbers as far as getting on base, but we've seen less contact from a guy who probably will need to make contact at the big league level. We've seen power numbers going the opposite direction.
Since Brett Jackson's new swing appears to be the opposite of a good thing for the Chicago Cubs, Jae-Hoon Ha and Matt Szczur are probably the closest CF prospects the Cubs have. It appears the both of them have been splitting time together in all the outfield positions at AA so one of them should be due up in Iowa before long.
Ha is still young for the level he's in, but he's a bit old for AA when you consider his experience. He's shown a bit of power early in his career, which would be more than enough to get by as a CF. That's been dropping, but his walk rate has appeared to be better to the point where I can't write him off anymore.
Rating: 5.5 C. If the defensive scouting reports are accurate, it's very likely that Ha will at least reach the big leagues and serve as a 4th or 5th outfielder for awhile. Ha has shown some decent power for a CF in the past and with an improving walk rate could become a serviceable regular. That would give him 45 points in our rankings.