SEOUL, Dec. 24 (Korea Bizwire) – A decade after going undrafted out of high school, South Korean outfielder Kim Hyun-soo has signed his first major league contract.
The Baltimore Orioles announced their signing of Kim to a two-year contract worth US$7 million on Wednesday, local time. The two sides had agreed to the terms of the deal on Dec. 16, pending a physical.
The Orioles, who have a history of running stringent physicals and quashing deals on would-be new acquisitions, took their time with Kim before making the transaction official.
The 27-year-old All-Star with the Doosan Bears in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) is the second South Korean to sign with a Major League Baseball (MLB) club this offseason. Earlier this month, former Nexen Heroes first baseman Park Byung-ho joined the Minnesota Twins.
Kim is the first player to jump from the KBO to MLB via free agency. Three players before him — Los Angeles Dodgers’ left-hander Ryu Hyun-jin, Pittsburgh Pirates’ infielder Kang Jung-ho and Park of the Twins — went through posting.’
“I am so happy I could cry now,” Kim said. “I’ll try to get ready for the regular season the best I can. I’ve always thought this was a good baseball club and the Orioles have chosen me.”
There will be at least one South Korean player in five of the six divisions in the majors next season: Kim in American League (AL) East, Park in AL Central, Choo Shin-soo of the Texas Rangers in AL West, Kang in National League (NL) Central, and Ryu in NL West.
Of the five, only Choo, who signed with the Seattle Mariners out of high school, went through the minors to reach the MLB. The other four had All-Star careers in the KBO, and Kim, Ryu and Kang all made their KBO debuts in 2006 after playing together on the junior national team a year earlier.
Kim will be wearing No. 25, instead of his usual No. 50, which has been worn by right-hander Miguel Gonzalez since 2009.
Kim, a durable left fielder who bats left and throws right, is expected to address the Orioles’ pressing needs for a corner outfielder who can provide offense from the left side of the plate.
Called the “Hitting Machine” in South Korea, Kim is a career .318 hitter in the KBO, holding the second-highest batting average among all active players with at least 3,000 plate appearances. He has a career on-base percentage of .406, with 597 walks against 501 strikeouts in 1,131 career games.
Kim made his KBO debut with the Bears as an undrafted walk-on in 2006, playing in just one game. He appeared in 99 games the following season, batting .273 with five home runs, and then took the league by storm by winning the batting title in 2008 — when he was 20 — with a .357 average.
He matched his .357 average in 2009 while raising his home run total from nine to 23. Between 2008 and 2015, Kim hit below .300 only once — .291 in 2012 — and his strikeouts exceeded his walk totals in just two out of those eight seasons.
In 2015, Kim, listed by the KBO at 188 centimeters and 100 kilograms (6-foot-2 and 220 pounds), posted his best power numbers with 28 home runs and 121 RBIs, along with a robust .326/.438/.541 line. He ranked among the top 10 in the Triple Crown categories, plus walks, on-base percentage, on-base-plus-slugging percentage, runs scored, hits, total bases and multi-hit games. He drew 101 walks and struck out 63 times in 630 plate appearances.
The improving outfielder who can also fill in at first base led all KBO left fielders in defensive innings played (2,633), putouts (590) and assists (21) over the past three seasons. He missed only 12 games in that stretch.
Kim is the latest Asian star snatched up by Dan Duquette, the Orioles’ executive vice president of baseball operations.
As the general manager for the Boston Red Sox from 1994 to 2002, Duquette signed three South Korean pitchers — Kim Sun-woo, Cho Jin-ho and Lee Sang-hoon — and they all reached the majors during his tenure.
Duquette praised Kim’s ability to stay on the field and contribute in many different ways.
“His durability is one of the key positive traits that he has,” Duquette said. “He has distinguished himself every year in Korean baseball by hitting over .300. He’s had over a .400 on-base percentage a couple of times in Korea. All those skills are going to be very helpful in this ballpark, but the best thing that I’ve seen him do is he hits the ball the other way. He waits on the ball and he hits down on the fastball and that should translate to a lot of home runs at this ballpark.”
Before Kim, the Orioles have signed four South Korean players, including former KBO MVP-winning pitcher Yoon Suk-min. Yoon spent one year in the O’s minor league and never pitched in the majors.
In 2011, a KBO All-Star pitcher Chong Tae-hyon came close to joining the Orioles but failed a physical. In 2012, the Orioles breached an agreement between the KBO and MLB when they signed underage high school pitcher Kim Seong-min. The Orioles also failed to tender a status check, prompting Duquette to apologize to South Korean officials.
The O’s won 96 games to take the American League East crown last year, but slipped to third place with 81 wins in 2015 after getting pushed around by the Toronto Blue Jays and the New York Yankees in the oft-competitive division.