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Orioles offseason positional roundup: Left field

Hyun Soo Kim could get a chance to be an everyday player in left field next year, but he'll likely platoon with Joey Rickard.
Hyun Soo Kim could get a chance to be an everyday player in left field next year, but he'll likely platoon with Joey Rickard.(Frank Gunn / AP)

With the 2016 season finished, there's no better time than the present to take stock of the Orioles' organizational depth at every position around the diamond.

Over the next few weeks, we'll break down every position individually and separate the players all through the system into three categories: who was the man there this year, who else was in the picture and who is working through the minors to join them. The second week begins with left field, where the Orioles had plenty of options and essentially settled on two.

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The man: Despite being buried on the bench six of seven days a week for the first two months of the season, Hyun Soo Kim became the team's most regular left fielder in 2016. His 335 plate appearances there were more than twice those of Nolan Reimold, who had the next most in left field.

When Kim did play, he gave the Orioles the steady on-base presence they've missed in their offense. Kim hit .302 with a .381 on-base percentage this year to go along with his six home runs and 16 doubles in 95 games. Kim didn't play often enough to qualify for the batting title, but he was still a regular, and his .381 OBP was the highest among Orioles regulars since Nick Markakis had a .406 OBP in 2008.

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With Manny Machado at third base for at least the next two years, third base is one of the most secure positions the Orioles have.

Even when roles shifted and rookie Joey Rickard ceded the primary left field responsibilities to Kim, the 28-year-old Korean still played only against right-handed starters. That shift occurred at the end of May, and with Kim in the lineup every day, the Orioles offense led the majors in every offensive category in June and set a league record for most home runs that month. Kim hit the record-setting 56th homer.

Conversely, when the team lost its groove offensively in July, the downturn coincided with a hamstring injury for Kim.

In a lineup where most everyone else swung from their heels, hunting home runs, Kim's patient, contact-oriented approach was a necessary change of pace for the Orioles. It took a while, but Kim more than delivered on the expectations he carried over from his star turn in the Korean Baseball Organization. If anything, he was underutilized as the season went on.

The alternatives: While Kim began the season on the bench, the Orioles settled into what was essentially a three-man outfield platoon at the corners. Rickard's outstanding spring secured him an everyday role for the first two months of the season, and most of that came in left field. When the Orioles faced a left-handed starter, Reimold would play left field, with Rickard in right field and Mark Trumbo serving as designated hitter.

Once Rickard's role was reduced, he shifted into a platoon with Kim and mostly played against left-handed pitchers, against whom he hit .313 with an .861 OPS. Overall, Rickard hit .268/.319/.377 with five home runs and a team-high four stolen bases. His season ended in July when he tore a thumb ligament, though he's expected to be fully healthy for spring training. Reimold started out hot but became the odd man out when Kim ascended to a more prominent role, and he finished the year batting .222 with a .664 OPS and six home runs in 104 games.

Others who saw time in left field were Trumbo, Steve Pearce, Drew Stubbs, Michael Bourn, Julio Borbon, and Ryan Flaherty.

The future: A pair of prominent names headline the Orioles' inventory in left field: 2015 first-round pick DJ Stewart and slugger Christian Walker.

Stewart had a difficult start in Low-A Delmarva this year, batting .230 entering the All-Star break, but he turned it on after a midseason promotion to High-A Frederick. There, Stewart hit .279/.389/.448 with 20 extra-base hits in 59 games. He's currently aiming to build on that success in the Arizona Fall League.

Walker started only in the outfield this season. With Chris Davis cemented at first base and Trey Mancini's star on the rise there, Walker shifted to left field from first base and started 90 games there this season for Triple-A Norfolk. Reports from scouts on his defense weren't encouraging, though the position change didn't affect Walker at the plate. For the second straight year, Walker hit 18 home runs for the Tides, adding 29 doubles while batting .264/.321/.437 in 131 games.

There were a host of other minor league players who played all three outfield positions and enjoyed some success, but few are primarily left fielders. Two in the low minors jump out — one for his performance and one for his potential.

Randolph Gassaway was drafted in 2013 and began in rookie ball for the third straight year but was quickly elevated to Delmarva, where he hit .330 with an .883 OPS and seven home runs in 50 games for the Shorebirds.

At short-season Single-A Aberdeen, Jaylen Ferguson hit just .183 with a pair of home runs in 50 games, but he is only 19 with a wiry, athletic frame and the ability to generate backspin. That gives him an upside rarely seen in this organization.

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At second base, the Orioles' short-term and long-term solution is Jonathan Schoop.

The skinny: Left field was seemingly in flux for the Orioles all season, but the pieces are in place for as productive of a platoon you'll find in 2017, should they go that route.

A full season in America, plus a more productive spring training, could give Kim the opportunity to play everyday, against both right- and left-handers. He didn't have a hit off a left-hander all year, but he also didn't get many opportunities.

A more realistic option would be to put Kim, who hit well off right-handers all year, and Rickard, whose value comes against left-handed pitching, into a straight platoon. Given the lack of left-handed pitching, Kim still would play the lion's share of games, and both would be well utilized.

Rickard still can provide a spark off the bench late in games when he doesn't play, too. Entering this season, it was hard to see a way both players could be on the roster together. Now that it's over, it's hard to see the roster without them.

Previous installments

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