A self proclaimed shy 19-year-old, Fu-Lin Kuo signed with the Yankees in 2010. He had a great first extended spring training, lost his way when he started the Gulf Coast League, then found his swing again in August. Kuo had a busy winter and comes into the 2011 season with some improvements ready to show.
Signed a year out of high school, Kuo was in the midst of his first year at the National Taiwan College of Physical Education when he chose to play overseas. A native of Guiren Township, Taiwan, Kuo says his first year in America was different to say the least.
“Last year, I was really shy because everything was new to me,” Kuo says through a translator. “I kind of closed myself off and didn’t want to bother anyone.”
At the Yankees’ minor league complex, you would never guess it. Kuo can be seen socializing with teammates, aided by his personal translator, and working with coaches. He says it’s due to a change in his attitude coming into his second year playing in the U.S.
“This year I’m more open-minded,” says Kuo. “I want to know my teammates and be more Americanized and know the culture of Americans.”
From a baseball perspective, Kuo is fitting in just fine. He had an up and down year last season, but his coaching staff and teammates see how hard he works and can see the constant improvements. Staten Island Manager Tommy Slater says that the up and down quality carried into this year, but he’s starting to find his groove again.
“He had a really good extended [spring training] but he had a rough start to the GCL but then he had a good August,” Slater says. “In August he got back to using the whole field. In the past week he’s started using the whole field again, and that’s really great to see.”
Slater alluded to a recurring problem for Kuo. He has a quick stroke to the ball and can generate some power (four home-runs and four doubles last season), but when his swing isn’t working, he focuses too greatly on pulling the ball. This leads to his front side pulling off the ball and missing good contact. By focusing on putting the ball up the middle or into right field, it focuses Kuo’s swing, making it more likely that he’ll have harder hits.
The coaching staff is key in helping Kuo improve his swing. He says they’re a constant positive even when he’s going through a rough stretch.
“The coaching staff encourages me a lot,” Kuo says. “They tell me the same things every day. They push me really hard and tell me to never give up.”
Kuo’s fielding is also an interesting topic. Last year, his foot work needed help and he committed 16 errors in 36 games. But coming into this season, he looks like an above-average defensive prospect. The coaches have him attacking ground balls and playing with a recklessness that he said is important.
“I’m playing very aggressive. I’m never passive,” says Kuo. “I’m not afraid of making errors this year so if it’s a high hopper or anything, I just go for it. I don’t think too much.”
In an extended spring training game on May 19th, Kuo had three hard hits at him in the 6th inning. His improved footwork was apparent. He fielded a couple very tough short-hops and also a hard sinking line drive. His fielding doesn’t look to be much of a weakness right now, though consistency, Coach Slater said, is the key.
“I think what we’ve seen [in his hitting and fielding] have been improvements,” Slater added. “And now we just need to see it consistently, day after day.”
For Kuo, the consistency is linked unto his mindset. The Taiwanese 20-year-old has a bright future if he can continue to improve at his current pace.
“If I have a strong confidence then everything’s easy for me,” Kuo says. “I know I’m a good player, so I’m not scared. Everything’s mental in this game.”
This article was originally published here at pinstripesplus.com