Outfielder Hyun Soo Kim returned to his native South Korea upon conclusion of the regular season and met with the media to discuss what was, in his own words, a “disappointing” second season in the Majors (link via Jee-ho Yoo of the Yonhap News Agency). Despite a rough campaign split between the Orioles and the Phillies, the 29-year-old Kim made it clear that his hope is to secure another opportunity to prove himself in the Major Leagues.
“It’s not something I can control,” Kim told reporters. “Obviously, I’d love to stay in the majors. But I felt my determination alone can’t do the trick. I’ll just try to do the best I can.”
Kim signed a two-year, $7MM contract with the Orioles in the 2015-16 offseason on the heels of an amazing nine-year career in the Korea Baseball Organization. In 4768 plate appearances with the KBO’s Doosan Bears, Kim batted .318/.406/.488 with 142 home runs, earning the nickname “The Hitting Machine” along the way. That nickname looked rather appropriate after Kim’s first season in Baltimore; he slashed a hearty .302/.382/.420 with six homers, 16 doubles and a triple in 346 plate appearance with the Orioles.
Kim, though, was shielded almost entirely from left-handed pitching in the Majors, and a slow start to the 2017 season (plus Trey Mancini’s early breakout) led to even more inconsistent playing time. He hit just .232/.305/.288 in 141 PAs with the O’s before being traded to the Phillies in late July — largely as a means of offsetting some of the salary of Jeremy Hellickson, who went from Philadelphia to Baltimore in that deal.
Playing time was even more scarce for Kim in Philadelphia, as the Phillies were evaluating younger options such as Nick Williams, Aaron Altherr and Rhys Hoskins in the outfield corners throughout the season’s second half. Ultimately, Kim’s sophomore campaign in the Majors produced a paltry .231/.307/.292 triple slash.
Kim took ownership of his struggles when speaking to the Korean media, though he did indicate that his part-time/platoon usage was a role to which he had a difficult time adjusting. “It was frustrating when I’d get three hits one day and sit on the bench the next day,” Kim admitted. “But it’s all on me. I just didn’t have it.”
Kim didn’t dismiss the notion of accepting a minor league contract when asked about a possible return to the Majors, but he noted that it would depend on the composition of the interested team’s roster. His time in Philadelphia made clear to him that at-bats will be difficult to come by on an up-and-coming team that is rife with outfield prospects ready for big league evaluation. A clearer path to playing time than the one he had in Philadelphia sounds as if it’ll be important to Kim when weighing offers this winter.
If there are ultimately no offers to his liking, it stands to reason that he would draw widespread interest from KBO clubs in free agency. But, Kim is still relatively young — he’ll play all of next season at the age of 30 — and is just a year removed from a 116 OPS+ and 120 wRC+ in nearly 350 MLB plate appearances. He’s demonstrated solid plate discipline and contact skills in the Majors as well, walking in 9.9 percent of his plate appearances while striking out at a 16.6 percent clip. While his defense didn’t grade out well in left field, there’s still reason to believe he could be a productive bat — at least in the same platoon capacity he had with the O’s in 2016.