A year ago, no one in Birdland knew who Hyun Soo Kim was. Now, he’s a fixture in left field — against right-handed pitchers, of course.
The Orioles signed the South Korean outfielder to a two-year, $7 million contract in December 2015, hoping he’d diversify their offense, and after many early uncomfortable stretches, he did.
Kim began spring training horribly, going hitless in his first 23 at-bats. He looked lost at the plate and slow in the outfield.
In the last week of spring training, Kim and his interpreter, Danny Lee sat with manager Buck Showalter as he was advised to start the season at Triple-A Norfolk.
Kim refused, as was his contractual right, and Showalter tried another talk, this time with Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette. Again, Kim declined.
He began the season on the roster and his introduction on Opening Day was accompanied by boos, but Showalter said that if Kim was on the team he was going to play.
Kim played sparingly in the first month, starting four times, but he hit well when called upon, batting .600 (9-for-15).
He played more often in May and late in the month started six straight times and hit his first home run.
From then on, Kim played regularly against right-handed pitchers and almost never against lefties.
He ended the season with a .302 average and .382 on-base percentage in 95 games.
Kim batted .321 against right-handers but failed to hit in 17 at-bats against left-handers.
He did slow down late in the season and hit only .235 after September 1.
In the season’s final weeks, Michael Bourn got playing time at Kim’s expense, but on September 28, he did deliver one of the season’s biggest hits, a two-run pinch-hit home run in Toronto.
Kim is likely to get more at-bats against left-handers next season, and it won’t matter which batting group he’ll hit with next spring training. He did try to impress some of the Orioles’ big hitters during early batting practice, and that set him back.
He was accepted so easily that the boos were quickly forgotten and a Kim T-shirt in Korean was a popular late-season giveaway.
In the wild-card game, a fan threw a beer can in Kim’s direction as he tried to catch a fly ball. Adam Jones quickly came to his defense jawing with the Rogers Centre fan in an attempt to find the miscreant.
As the Orioles head into 2017, they may try to find a new platoon partner for Kim, but their hope is that Kim minimizes that right-handed hitters’ playing time.