A Korean baseball analyst breaks down Hyun-soo Kim's game

What separates Hyun-soo Kim's game from others in Korea?

I had a chance to talk with Korean media member Daniel Kim on Thursday about the Orioles two-year, $7 million agreement with Korean outfielder Hyun-soo Kim (no relation) pending physical.

And I asked for a scouting report on the 27-year-old, left-handed hitting outfielder with the career .318 batting average in the Korea Baseball Organization.

Daniel Kim, who is based in Seoul, is a TV baseball analyst for KBSN and a columnist for Daum Media. He’s also worked for various Major League Baseball organizations over the years in various roles including scouting.

He has seen Hyun-soo Kim play for much of the last nine seasons. And I thought his unbiased point of view might interest Orioles fans. As he talked, I couldn’t help but think about how different this guy’s game is in comparison to a lot of current Orioles – he takes pitches, doesn’t strike out much and walks a lot. He has power – he hit 28 homers in the KBO last year – but is known more for making good contact.

But, according to Daniel Kim, Hyun-soo Kim also has that gritty, hard-working ingredient that Orioles manager Buck Showalter loves and the Orioles’ clubhouse fosters.

Here’s what Daniel Kim had to say about Hyun-soo Kim:

On Kim’s makeup:

“The Orioles are getting a fierce competitor. He was never drafted in the KBO, was basically a walk-on with the Doosan Bears. That means he worked up from the very bottom of the KBO league. He worked into a regular playing spot in the KBO within three years. He fought his way up here. Now this doesn’t guarantee success at the major league level, but he has been a model citizen here. He has worked hard and is very, very consistent. He doesn’t get too up or down. He’s been a very automatic player. Very reliable. With Kim, you are going to get a finished product. He may not come off at first as a fierce competitor, but he is one of most fierce guys I’ve ever covered at the KBO level.”

On Kim’s defense:

“He’s improved recently in terms of catching the ball. He’s made some nice catches near the fences. On some balls that would fall in front of him before, he catches now. He has good catching ability on tracking down line drives and he has made some spectacular catches. His arm is not strong, but he will make accurate throws. He doesn’t have a cannon, but he doesn’t make any bad throws. I think he’ll be OK as far as an overall outfielder. And on tracking down the fly balls, he’s slightly above average.”

On Kim’s baserunning:

“He has average speed. He is a smart baserunner and he tends to be aggressive at times. He’s not a station-to-station guy; he’ll take an extra base. He’s not going to steal 30 to 40 bases either, but once he’s on base, he is a very smart. He is a very controlled player, including on the basepaths.”

On Kim’s conditioning:

“He’s not lazy at all. He’s always in shape, that’s never been an issue with him. At times, like any baseball player, he gets nicks and bruises, but he has always been healthy. Obviously, he needs to play more games. The major league schedule is much tougher (162 games compared to 144 in Korea), but he comes in prepared and ready. He shows up every single day to play and so I think that won’t be an issue. He’s never had any major injures, that never was a factor in his career in KBO.”

On his power:

“Fifteen (home runs) sounds about right. Keep in mind the Doosan Bears play in one of the larger stadiums in KBO, much bigger than Camden Yards. They are a team with a philosophy that’s not about home runs. That’s not how they develop players. They develop players to fit their stadium. They emphasize hitting for contact and baserunning. … Kim has some power and that should translate into double-digit home runs (in the majors). That could be 10, but if he gets on a roll he could more. … I think if he decides power is more the way to go, he could switch that on and hit more. He’s not going to give you 30 to 40 bombs, but he does have some power. He’s one of the top players in Korea for being a mistake hitter. If they leave something out over the plate, he will crush it.”

On his plate discipline:

“Pitch recognition is definitely something he is very proud of. That’s his strength. He has good pitch recognition. I don’t know any way else to describe it. He rarely swings at bad pitches. Obviously, in the major leagues they’ll throw faster and with different movement than he is used to seeing. We’ll have to wait and see how that will translate from the KBO. But in the KBO he doesn’t give an at-bat away. The team may be up 10-0 or down 10-0 and it may look like a meaningless at-bat, but he doesn’t give it away. He gives his all in every at-bat.”

On comparing his ability to a major league hitter:

“I’m not saying that he is going to be the next Alex Gordon (a free agent who played for the Kansas City Royals). But he is kind of like Alex Gordon (offensively). Let me make that clear: He may not be the next Alex Gordon in MLB, but he was that kind of player in Korea. He doesn’t look sexy, but he keeps the chains moving. He takes pitches and really makes the opposing pitcher work really hard. If everything goes well and he is what the Orioles are expecting him to be, the perfect scenario is an Alex Gordon-type offensive player.”

On how the KBO quality of play compares with MLB:

“I think the top 5 to 10 players in the KBO could handle a roster spot at the major league level. That’s always been my assessment of the level of play. Overall, you are talking about players that belong in all levels of (pro baseball in the United States) and they are all in one league (in Korea). So it is tough to answer that question. I think the Top 10 (including Kim) could handle a roster spot in the major leagues whether it is as a starter, a reliever or on the bench. But there are some (Korean players) that would be in A ball, or Double A or Triple A. You get a variety in the KBO. It’s like a buffet.”

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