KBO left-hander Kwang-hyun Kim is expected to be posted by his parent club, the SK Wyverns, this offseason, and early indications are that he’ll be something of a hot commodity. Several MLB scouts are quoted in praise of Kim’s abilities in a Saturday article from Yoo Jee-ho of Yonhap News Agency, with several expressing optimism toward Kim’s chances of securing a rotation job (link). According to Jee-ho, Kim said Friday that he’d like to negotiate with teams that will give him an opportunity to start.
Three MLB scouts were quoted on the condition of anonymity in the above-linked piece, with the first evaluator opining that there will be “more than enough” teams willing to offer Kim a rotation spot (this scout also voiced a preference for Kim over Josh Lindblom, another star KBO pitcher expected to come stateside this offseason). A second scout described Kim’s slider and curve as “filthy” while placing a slightly above-average grade on the 31-year-old’s fastball. “If Kim is willing to settle for a relief role, he’ll certainly get a big league job,” said yet a third scout. “He could be a starter on a middling team.”
Kim’s own stated preference toward starting should help determine his ultimate destination. Yesterday, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic relayed that the Mets, Royals, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, and Cubs were among teams showing early interest. All of those teams could use another good arm on hand (who couldn’t?), but the Dodgers, in particular, don’t stand out as a team in dire need of starting depth. The club’s young pitching, to say nothing of veterans like Clayton Kershaw and Kenta Maeda, would seem to leave their rotation well spoken for, but it’s amusing to ponder if LA could allow Hyun-Jin Ryu, another former left-handed star of the KBO, to walk while securing Kim as a speculative starting replacement.
The Diamondbacks, meanwhile, certainly profile as a recently middle-of-the-pack team that has shown a willingness to gamble on the ability of a pitcher to translate their success to American soil. It was just last offseason that GM Mike Hazen signed pitcher Merrill Kelly to a two-year, $5.5MM guaranteed contract with consecutive club options valued at $4.25MM and $5.25MM. Like Kim, Kelly isn’t a particularly hard thrower, with a fastball sitting around 92 mph, but he was still able to parlay a four-year run of KBO success into a multi-year contract followed by a generally acceptable 2019 rookie year (4.42 ERA across 32 starts). The ’Backs can’t be described as an especially pitching-needy team, but recent rumors around the name of lefty Robbie Ray could foreshadow an upcoming job opening in the Arizona rotation.
Kim threw to a 2.51 ERA in 191.1 innings with the Wyverns in 2019, continuing a career that, aside from a 2017 Tommy John procedure, has largely been immaculate. Since debuting in 2007 at the age of 18, the left-hander owns a 3.27 ERA with 7.8 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 in 1,673 2/3 career innings. Though Kim was unable to come to an accord with the Padres after his posting in 2014, it’s beginning to appear that his continued success, combined with a particularly pitching-hungry free-agent market, could soon lead to his long-awaited MLB debut.