In his second year, it’s time for Baltimore Orioles’ Hyun Soo Kim to become the everyday leadoff hitter in 2017.
However, the dream of being a major league baseball player didn’t go as planned for Kim. In the first seven spring training games last year, the former player of South Korea’s Doosan Bears went 0-for-21, but only struck out three times.
Ultimately, Kim hit .178/.224/.178 in 45 at-bats last spring, including two RBIs and one BB and produced a round of boos from the hometown fans last year on Opening Day.
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Nevertheless, Kim quickly transformed into a fan favorite following an April where Kim collected nine hits in 15 at-bats, a .600 batting average. Kim completed his rookie campaign hitting .302/.382/.801 with six home runs and 22 RBIs in 305 at-bats.
Now in his second year, Kim heads into the 2017 regular season much more relaxed and confident as he looks to expand his role from only playing when the opposition starts a right-handed pitcher.
Thankfully, Kim won’t endure another 0-for-21 like he did last spring as the tweet by Brittany Ghiroli tells it all:
Kim enters spring training as one of the leading candidates to serve as the leadoff hitter for the O’s in 2017 as Adam Jones, who was the primary leadoff hitter last season, slides back down to the middle of the O’s batting order.
Other leading candidates to fill the Baltimore Orioles leadoff role includes Joey Rickard, newly acquired Seth Smith, and veteran Michael Bourn. For now, we will leave Bourn out of the leadoff discussion as won’t see the field for a month with a fractured finger.
The 29-year-old Kim led the Orioles batting order for just two games last season and registered one hit in nine plate appearances. On the other hand, Rickard filled the leadoff role for 41 games last year for the Orioles before suffering an injury mid-season.
Above all, Smith possesses the most experience out of the three by a landslide. Throughout this career, Smith has served as the leadoff hitter for four different teams with a .256 batting average in 336 at-bats. As of now, Smith is the favorite to be the team’s primary leadoff batter, but that can easily change if Kim can show he can hit against southpaws throughout spring training.
In 17 at-bats, Kim failed to record a hit against left-handed pitchers last season, but many can argue Showalter’s unwillingness to give Kim more opportunities in 2016 against lefties.
|vs LH Starter
|vs RH Starter
According to Brittany Ghiroli of MLB.com, Kim has trained this offseason with Baltimore Orioles’ hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh and told Ghiroli last week, “I want to be an everyday player. Through a lot of training with [hitting coach] Scott Coolbaugh, I’m able to see lefties and hit off them [in practice]. I’ll try to become an everyday player who is able to do what the club asks me to do.”
To be a successful leadoff hitter, you must carry certain traits including the ability to get on base, productive at-bats with runners in scoring position, and steal bases. Kim holds two of those traits, on-base percentage and delivering hits with runners in scoring position.
In 49 at-bats, Kim hit a respectable .306 with runners in scoring position last season with one home run and 14 RBIs, along with six walks. In addition, Kim hit .301 with runners on with three homers and 19 RBIs in his rookie season.
When comparing on-base average among the three leadoff candidates, Kim led the group by a wide margin, posting a .383 on-base average in 2016. Last season, Smith recorded a .321 OBP and grounded into 11 double plays. Lastly, Rickard, who is fighting for a roster spot this spring, posted a .321 OBP and only grounded into three double plays.
With just one stolen base on three attempts last season, Kim doesn’t contain the prototypical speed most leadoff hitters carry. However, Kim has the incredible ability to hit ground balls rather than hitting into flyballs.
Last year, 52.6 percent of Kim’s batted balls were groundballs and 26.9 percent were fly balls, but only 2.9 percent of his batted balls were infield fly balls. Given these points, I believe Kim should be placed atop the batting order come Orioles Opening Day on April 3rd.
So will Kim remain relegated to just bat against right-handed pitchers in 2017 or will he take on a bigger role such as the team’s everyday leadoff batter? As stated earlier, for this to happen, Kim must demonstrate throughout the month of March during spring training that he can hit against left-handed pitchers.
So far this spring training, Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter has experimented with Kim, Rickard, and Smith at leadoff. On Sunday, it was Kim’s turn to leadoff the Orioles batting order as he went 1-for-3 with one RBI.