With all due respect to Garabez Rosa or Alfredo Marte, watching Spring Training can be a bothersome, laborious task. The abundance of mediocrity reminds you why so many guys are stuck in the twilight zone of being labeled "Quad-A" players. Weak contact, slow bats, average arms around the diamond, and that's just the 5th inning.
Nevertheless, there are reasons to dabble. Young pitchers like Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey, regardless of the Orioles prospective outlook, provide a glimpse into where the grass may in fact be greener. Manny Machado, Chris Davis and Adam Jones are all getting their hacks, while newbie Mark Trumbo has flashed the kind of pop Dan general manager Dan Duquette had hoped to acquire.
In the middle of it all, there's Hyun-Soo Kim, the Orioles projected shoe-in to start in left field. In his short time in Sarasota, he seems to be a player Birdland is going to very much like. There was that one time Kim was gifted with a traditional Bibimap lunch, and he chuckled that goofy smile that's sure to catch on. In the handful of games he's appeared in thus far, it's hard not to notice when he calls time in the batter's box. He does this thing where he makes sure the pitcher sees him calling time, even looking back a second or third time as if to say "I'M CALLING TIME, I'M SO SORRY PLEASE DON'T HURT ME".
If only we measured the success of a player based on do-good intangibles.
To this point of the preseason, Kim is an astounding 0-18 at the plate, a streak that has caught on between the trio of Orioles beat writers who have incessantly tweeted his ongoing drought. One would think that Kim would accidentally sneak a ground ball through the infield or float a jam-shot single just over an infielder's head by now, but here we are. Mired in needless obsession.
Kim is trekking on a road that only three other Korean-born position players (not including Rob Refsnyder) have ever attempted. Besides Shin-Soo Choo, Hee-Seop Choi and Jung Ho Kang, Kim becomes one of only a handful of players to ever journey from South Korea to the United States. That transition comes with unusual circumstances.
Imagine being one of the most regarded human beings in a culture you've cemented superstar status. You compile a career .318/.406/.488 slash over the course of nearly a decade as one of your country's most lovable faces. Despite the built-in gratitude of an already adoring fanbase, you make the jump for more. You've already proven your mettle. Why bother leaping into the unknown?
Kim obviously believes he belongs in the United States playing the highest level of baseball in the world, and the Orioles do as well. Of course, baseball is what brought him here, but there is much more that goes into coming halfway across the world.
I'd imagine his arrival into Sarasota was one of optimism and nostalgia, but more so anxiety. It's one thing to be a Trumbo or Yovani Gallardo, guys who have had the pleasure of squaring off, or even previously playing alongside those in a new clubhouse. But not Kim. The 28-year-old doesn't speak English, his only "friend" is likely translator Danny Lee, and even worse, he doesn't want to look like a stiff.
Now in the same lineup as Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Chris Davis and others, Kim has daunting task of impressing his new teammates and fans, even those back home. We want him to get on-base and make contact, but I'd bet his fellow countrymen are piping for his success on an entirely different spectrum. Kim has pressure on him, and evidently he's feeling it.
The Baltimore Sun's Eduardo Encina recently spoke with Kim, who commented on his inner struggles.
"Defensively and offensively, I don’t feel like I’m being myself. Maybe I’m trying to show too much. Maybe I’m trying to play like I did before too much. I feel a little bit like I’m playing like a little kid who just got into playing baseball. I’m trying to get used to it and trying to go farther from there."
In most cases excuses can be overblown, but for someone facing pitchers he's never seen, combined with the many challenges that come with trying to fit into a new culture and clubhouse, his situation is legitimate. This Sunday, one at-bat stood out in documenting Kim's attempt to overcome his uncharacteristic plate struggles.
With the bases loaded, against a fresh right-hander in Jorge Marban, Kim had a chance to possibly plate a run or execute a productive out.
On the first pitch, Kim swings at high fastball he really had no chance of squaring up. With Clay Buchholz having struggled to throw strikes and Marban being thrown into a fire, a take in this situation would have been ideal, especially given Kim's reputation. Kim would follow a wild swing with a loopy attempt at a hanging slider on the inner-half, fouling it off. Down 0-2, Kim took a pair of feeble off-speed pitches from Marban, before being gifted a fastball middle-in.
Boston catcher Ryan Hanigan had to reach back over the middle of the plate in order stab at Marban's fastball, and at first glance, Kim looks like he has the pitched scoped. But to no avail, Kim pops up the wheelhouse fastball and extends his streak of consecutive plate appearances without a hit.
Spring Training is a time for players to work out the kinks. With the recent addition of Pedro Alvarez seemingly moving the reputably ill-equipped Mark Trumbo to everyday duties in right field, I'd expect Buck Showalter to use the rest of the month to settle him with plenty of repetitions in the outfield. For Kim, the remaining weeks before the games start to count can only be seen as stepping stones to progression.
Steamer and ZIPS combine to project Kim to post a slash of .272/.338/.425 with 19 home runs and 63 RBIs, equating to an above-above 106 wRC+. While that is a significant drop-off from his Korean days, the remaining Grapefruit League schedule poses the availability of reps in order to steady his timing.
The month of March is what it is in order to parlay present struggles into future consistency. Jonesy needs it, Machado needs it, but to the reasons spoken before, Kim needs it even more.
At some point we'll see the Kim that's been advertised as a patient, put-the-ball-in-play machine, just don't fret in the moment. That sweet swing of his just needs a bit more seasoning.
*Photos courtesy of MLB.com