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.