By TED BAARDA
Among baseball fans there is a tendency to look to the future. Young players, top prospects and future draft picks make us excited for what could be. For the most part these players that we look at as the future are in the minor leagues, college or high school, but there are also some fascinating players overseas. Today I want to bring to your attention Ha-Seong Kim, an infielder for the Kiwoom Heroes of the KBO.
Kim is in the middle of arguably the best season of his career, which started in 2014. KBO players are required to play seven seasons in Korea in order to be eligible for posting, and with this season being his seventh it seems likely that he could be on the market for MLB teams this off-season (Kim himself said as much when he received his Gold Glove award last off-season).
So what makes Kim such an intriguing player for MLB teams?
Let’s start with his bat, as Kim combines great bat to ball skills with an uppercut swing that produces loft when he squares a ball up. And while KBO offensive numbers were inflated early in his career, as the leaguewide offense has fallen back towards “normal” (or closer in line with MLB league averages), Kim’s numbers have not dropped back with the rest of the league. There is also the encouraging fact that despite being one of the best hitters in the league, his numbers keep improving:
Kim’s plate discipline numbers have improved in each of the last three years to the point where his walk rate is three percentage points higher than his strikeout rate. And while his ISO dropped from 2017 to 2018 he has raised it back to the levels he was producing when the KBO still had a “juiced” baseball (the KBO went to a less lively ball in the 2019 season which resulted in league-wide offensive numbers dropping from previous years).
Another aspect of Kim’s game to get excited about is his defense and versatility, as Kim has quick reflexes, smooth actions and good situational awareness on the field. He has played primarily shortstop for the Heroes the last two years (our data covering 2019 and 2020), but after his team acquired former MLB SS Addison Russell, Kim has spent some time at third base (likely due to his strong, accurate throwing arm) while still getting regular reps at shortstop when Russell plays second base.
Not only is Kim versatile, he can play shortstop just fine, as evidenced by his multiple KBO Gold Glove awards at the position (2018 and 2019). Even though the standard for Gold Glove defense is lower in the KBO compared to MLB, it is still a notable accomplishment. Though his defensive metrics don’t stand out at shortstop we feel good about his skills projecting to MLB, as he would likely transition from a fast turf home field to a slower grass one.
Kim also has above-average speed to go with his bat and glove, along with improving baserunning instincts. While he has backed off in his stolen base attempts this year, in 2019 he stole 33 bases in 37 attempts. This year he is a perfect 19-19 stealing bases. Since 2016 (when he was caught stealing 15 times as a 21 year old) he has been caught stealing only 14 times in 90 attempts.
Ha-seong Kim appears to have a well-rounded skillset and provides defensive versatility that fits well into today’s MLB game. Kim will be 25 on Opening Day next year, which should give him time to adjust and improve at the MLB level. If your team is out of the MLB race and you want some other baseball to watch, following Kim and Kiwoom through the end of the season and into the playoffs is a great option as well.