Scroll way down the Baltimore Orioles’ spring-training statistics through eight games. All the way at the bottom, let your eyes settle on the name of Hyun Soo Kim. Through six games and 18 at-bats, the Korean import is off to a miserable start. His .000/.000/.000 slash line says all you need to know about Kim’s first taste of big-league (and slightly below big-league) level pitching.
How Kim would adjust to life in a major-league batter’s box after 10 years in the KBO, was one of the biggest storylines to watch in Orioles’ camp this March. The early results have not been anything to write home about. Coming out of Korea, Kim was lauded for his professional approach at the plate and an ability to make contact. In his first six games with the Orioles, making contact has not been the problem for Kim, as he has struck out only three times. It’s been putting the ball in play with any sort of authority, as well as beating the shift, that’s given Kim trouble.
There’s no reason to give up on Kim just yet. Over the course of the regular season, more than one Orioles’ hitter will go through an 0-for-18 slump. It happens in baseball, especially in spring training. Collectively, the Orioles are batting .208 as a team. Something tells me they will hit a little better than that during the regular season.
Kim will be under more scrutiny than anyone else on the Orioles’ roster over the remainder of the spring-training slate. Fear not, he will reach base at some point. Yes, there are undeniably questions over his ability to adjust to major-league pitching. Pitching in the KBO is somewhere between Double- and Triple-A caliber, and expecting Kim to fly across the Pacific Ocean and pick up right where he left off with the Doosan Bears would be foolish. It’s worth noting that fellow Korean ex-pat Jung Ho Kang batted only .200/.280/.444 and struck out 17 times in 18 games during spring training last season. He went on to have a perfectly fine rookie season.
Hyun Soo Kim is a veteran hitter in the middle of a good old-fashioned baseball slump. As the hitless at-bats pile up, he keeps pressing. What he needs now is a day off to collect his thoughts, rebuild his confidence, and take a little extra time ironing out his swing in the cage. Speaking to Eduardo Encina of the Baltimore Sun after Saturday afternoon’s game, Kim said, “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.”
This is not a player incapable of making solid contact against major-league pitching. It’s just a player who is pressing at the plate. Slumps like this happen. Kim has hit a few balls hard in his 18 at-bats. He’s been making consistent contact. Eventually, a few of those well-struck balls will find the outfield grass. For now, there’s no reason to expect anything less than a .275/.340/.400 line from Hyun Soo Kim during his rookie year. Get back to me if he is still searching for his first hit at the end of April.