The Lesser Spotted Hyun-Soo Kim

With a tale of Spring Training woe in Baltimore, it’s Will Cook

The winter has been long.  I’ve had colleagues suggest to me that the end of last season feels only like yesterday.  I don’t feel like this at all and it gets to the point where you’re excited because pitchers and catchers have their first day of training; then spring training begins.

You watch a few of the early matches before quickly remembering one of life’s early lessons: spring training numbers mean nothing.

When I say nothing, I mean very little. And when I say that, I mean very little to the established players.  The reason why of course is the rosters are so full of minor league invitees that the standard varies massively.  On top of that, pitchers are trying new things and batters the same.

Red Sox AA slugger Sam Travis hit 0.536 this spring, whilst perennial lefty Scott Kazmir recorded an era of 7.71 and the Phillies Maikel Franco hit 8 Home Runs in under 20 games.  The simple fact is that while these numbers may mean something, the rest of these players’ career numbers (or lack of) matter much more than how they performed in spring.

Sometimes even front offices get overexcited about such performances.  Poor Tyler Duffey lost his spot in the Twins’ starting rotation after a miserable spring, despite 10 superb starts at the back end of the 2015 season.

Which brings me onto the topic of this article, namely Hyun-Soo Kim.

Just before Christmas, Kim signed a $7m, 2 year deal with the Baltimore Orioles.

Thanks to Pittsburgh’s Jung Ho Kang last season, teams are more confident that great Korean league numbers will translate to good MLB ones and Kim came over with seriously good numbers in 2015.  In 141 games he hit a slash line of 0.326/0.438/0.541 including 28 Home runs, 101 walks with only 63 strike outs.

He has hit over 0.300 in seven of his last eight seasons, not only does he come with plate discipline, power and contact skills, he also has done it over a long period of time.  At the age of 28 Hyun-Soo Kim is ready to peak.

Then spring training came and Kim struggled.  It took him 24 plate appearances before he reached base and he ended the pre-season hitting just 0.182 including no extra base hits.  Digging deeper into those 23 miserable plate appearances as you could see the speed of the bat was fine, he wasn’t striking out.  When it comes to hitting ground balls, sometimes you keep hitting the infielders and that can easily be put down to sheer bad luck.  Yet that was more than enough for the Orioles to decide they had made a big mistake.

One would assume that maybe Baltimore have a star studded outfield and their players have simply outplayed him to the point where this was the only sane decision.  Yet their outfield depth beyond All Star Adam Jones is Mark Trumbo, Joey Rickard, Ryan Flaherty and Nolan Reimold. Essentially Kim’s everyday LF role has been filled by Rickard.

Guess what?  Rickard had a really good spring. Yet has only played as high as triple A and doesn’t tick nearly as many boxes as Kim does.  His batting average sits at 0.283, he strikes out more than he walks, has next to no power (13 home runs in 3 seasons).  But let us go back to the important part – he had a good spring.

So what’s next for Hyun-Soo Kim?  As part of his contract, he could not be designated to one of Baltimore’s minor league teams and as such looks to be on his way back to Korea whilst the Orioles’ accounts  take a $7m hit for no return on investment.

Scouts consistent downplay the Korean leagues due the lack of pace on the fastest pitches, but you could certainly say the same the majority of the minor league pitching.

What is more, there are equally weak outfields in the league that would love to take a chance on him, even more so if Byung-Ho Park has a successful start in Minnesota.  I don’t intend to paint each Korean import with the same brush, but what I am saying is that the greater the evidence that the numbers translate from Korea to US, the longer leash future players will get.

I predict it won’t be the last we see of Kim and it would be fitting if he ended up at a division rival like Tampa Bay in a cut price deal, leading to potentially very cruel karma in Camden Yards.

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3 thoughts on “The Lesser Spotted Hyun-Soo Kim

  1. I’d like to believe that it’s down to more than just the spring numbers that have led the Orioles to their conclusion: there are countless batting practice sessions that we don’t see and don’t get recorded, dozens of fielding drills never reported on. If they think he needs more time to adjust, they’re probably right.

    What the article doesn’t mention, and what is the latest drama that makes me embarrassed to be an O’s fan, is the horrendous way the front office have allowed this situation to play out in the media (Dexter Fowler debacle, anyone?). There have been so many leaks and rumours that it appears they’re trying to force him to go to the minors, or (as I believe they’d really like to do), find a way of a KBO side taking him back and picking up some or all of his salary. If they’re not going to play him, they need to give him the $7m and part ways instead of trying to portray him as the bad guy for the egregious crime of wanting his contract honoured, a contract that the O’s were more than happy to sign a few months ago.

    This is the third time in succession that the O’s have severely botched the signing of a Korean player. They’ve already made themselves unattractive to starting pitchers with their notorious medicals (because playing in a batters in ballpark in the AL East just wasn’t enough) and now any player from overseas is going to have deep, deep reservations about coming to Baltimore.

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    1. Great comment Ali. The Orioles off-season has been an absolute horrorshow as we alluded to in our preview. You do have to wonder how long Duquette’s leash is if this continues…

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      1. I don’t think Duquette has been the same since he lost out on the President of Baseball Operations job in Toronto. I think he practically had his bags packed and flights booked, but (ironically, given the Kim situation) Angelos was of the opinion that he had a contract and he should honour it.

        So many trades have been failures, the development of Gausmann has appeared to be without any shred of common sense or planning, every other SP we ‘develop’ is made of glass and spiders’ webs and we’ve spent something like $240m this offseason to only be negligibly better than last year if at all. On top of that, the media and public relations strategy is appalling, with the O’s time and time again being made to look like buffoons. Sadly, more often than not, it’s completely deserved

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