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Not Quite a Prospect: Hyun Soo Kim

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Baltimore Orioles Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Three months ago, there was a big to-do about Hyun Soo Kim’s role with the Orioles on the heels of his struggles in Spring Training. The Orioles front office, of course, is not known for its patience; they discussed releasing Kim, or having him open the season in Triple-A. And, to be fair, “struggling” may be putting it lightly - the 28-year-old went hitless in his first 23 AB, and wrapped up the Spring batting just .182/.229/.182. It was an ugly situation, made worse by the fact that Kim openly refused an assignment to the minors.

Heading into Spring Training, opinions about Kim’s potential varied quite a bit. Eric Longenhagen of ESPN and FanGraphs painted a picture of an average-ish left-fielder, whereas former MLB and KBO pitcher C.J. Nitkowski felt that reasonable benchmarks were a .275 BA, .350 OBP, 10 HR, and 60 BB. His hit tool and patience were the cornerstones of his offensive game, and most agreed that they appeared advanced in Korea - but many still saw holes that could be exploited by Major League pitchers. While few out there thought that Kim would be an outright flop, the lack of a clear consensus made it difficult to determine what to make of his Spring Training woes, and the Orioles apparent lack of commitment (despite a guaranteed $7 MM contract).

It was unsurprising, then, that Kim did not play until the team’s fifth game of the season, or that he saw all of 17 PA in the entirety of April. He made the most of that playing time, though, batting .600/.647/.667, with 2 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 2 BB, and 2 K. It was a minuscule sample size, but it was encouraging to see some semblance of competence. The Orioles did not quite buy it, though, as he played in only six of the team’s first 20 games in May (two of which were PH appearances).

And then, for a variety of reasons, he garnered a real shot, starting every game from May 25 through June 4, and he made the most of it, batting .385/.455/.564 with 6 R, 4 2B, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 4 BB, and 7 K. Since becoming a semi-regular on May 25 (playing in 26 of the Orioles last 35 games), he has hit .333/.426/.505, with 14 R, 7 2B, 3 HR, 9 RBI, 12 BB, and 16 K in 108 PA. The contact skills and patience that Nitkowski and others raved about has been on full display of late, and Kim has shown no signs of slowing down.

Much of Kim’s success has likely stemmed from the Orioles putting him in the position to ... well ... succeed. The left-handed hitter has faced southpaws only 7 times, deferring to fellow rookie Joey Rickard against instead (who has an .828 OPS against LHP). That platoon has worked wonders for the team as a whole, as well as its role players. Kim is, at least for now, strictly a platoon player - but facing RHP means that he should be starting 65% of the team’s games.

As of this writing, Kim is owned in right around 4% of both Yahoo! and ESPN fantasy leagues. That makes some sense for a platoon player, even one that has performed as well as Kim. I would hazard, though, that he could be worth a spot in most leagues if he keeps up some semblance of this production, given that he is playing in about two-thirds of his team’s games. In deeper leagues, however, he is absolutely worth a spot - particularly once you factor in his home ballpark and lineup.