SEOUL, Dec. 29 (Korea Bizwire) – South Korean outfielder Kim Hyun-soo may have gotten a little ahead of himself when he told reporters Tuesday that he hopes to conclude his baseball career in the U.S.
It had been less than a week since the Baltimore Orioles announced their signing of the Doosan Bears All-Star for a two-year contract worth US$7 million.
But now that he’ll be playing stateside, the 27-year-old said there will be no turning back.
“I want to do well and retire in the U.S. before coming back to South Korea,” Kim told reporters at a press conference in Seoul. “If I return here before then, it would mean I’m no longer desirable to U.S. teams. I’d consider myself a loser if I take a U-turn to the Korean baseball league.”
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 Byung-ho of the Twins — went through posting.
Kim said he most looked forward to playing against Boston Red Sox pitcher David Price whom he described to be an “aggressive” player “who rarely allows walks.”
“Practice doesn’t cut it when it comes to fastballs,” he said. “I’ll have to play in a lot of friendlies to learn how to deal with them.”
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.
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 their executive vice president Dan 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.