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06/18/07 12:33 PM ET

Yankees sign two Chinese prospects

Pitcher Liu, catcher Zhang inked to Minor League contracts

NEW YORK -- The Yankees' foray into the Far East has paid dividends, and it continued Monday.

The Yankees announced that they signed two players -- left-handed pitcher Kai Liu and catcher Zhenwang Zhang -- to Minor League contracts, with approval from the Chinese Baseball Association.

"This is an exciting opportunity for us to integrate Chinese players into the organization," said general manager Brian Cashman. "We believe that this is the start of something we can develop further as we work toward our commitment to help grow the game of baseball in China."

Along with team president Randy Levine and assistant general manager Jean Afterman, Cashman was part of a contingent that visited Beijing in January, announcing a working relationship with the Chinese Baseball Association that will attempt to grow the game overseas.

At the time, it was suggested that the effort might someday yield baseball's answer to basketball superstar Yao Ming. The Yankees agreed to allow Chinese teams and officials to use their training facilities in New York and at Legends Field in Tampa, Fla., while swapping coaches and trainers to help the CBA's burgeoning program.

Liu, 19, began playing baseball in 2000 for the Guangdong Province team. In addition to his playing career in the six-team Chinese Baseball League with the Guangdong Leopards, he was chosen to participate as a member of the People's Republic of China National Team.

Zhang, 19, began his playing career in 1998 in the Municipality of Tianjin. He helped lead his team, the Tianjin Lions, to the CBL championship series in three of the past five seasons (2002, 2005 and 2006) and was selected to represent his country as a member of the PRC National Team. Zhang also participated in the 2006 World Baseball Classic.

Both players will be introduced at a formal press conference at Yankee Stadium on July 6. Following their introduction, the players will report to the Yankees' player development complex in Tampa.

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.