TORONTO -- The Toronto Blue Jays have signed the first Korean-born player ever to be placed on the 40-man roster of a major league baseball club, team officials announced Tuesday.
Dong Won Choi, a 23-year-old right-hander, signed a contract last week following a trip to South Korea by Elliott Wahle, Blue Jays player personnel administrator.
Club spokesmen indicated last week they were interested in signing Choi, who impressed them in August when he pitched South Korea to a 1-0 victory over Canada in the Inter-Continental Cup tournament in Edmonton.
The Blue Jays had worried Choi might have to complete 16 months' compulsory military service before being allowed to leave his homeland.
However, team officials expected the requirement would be waived in Choi's case.
'There is a special application before the South Korea government for dispensation for several athletes,' Wahle said. 'All Korean athletes have to go into the military before leaving the country, but the new government there is very sports oriented and we are hopeful of a favorable decision in the next few weeks.'
Choi, 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, played with the Lotte Giants of the Korean Baseball League. In 1980, he beat the United States at the World Amateur championships in Italy.
The Blue Jays have watched Choi for the past two years.
'Scouts feel he has the ability to pitch in the major leagues immediately,' Wahle said. 'He'll start his career on the major league roster.'
Blue Jays scouting reports rate Choi as having an average fastball and curve ball and an above-average slider, with above-average control.