The 2020 MLB season was delayed almost four months due to the coronavirus. Additionally, the financial disputes between the MLB owners and the MLBPA caused further delays. So the only baseball for MLB fans during the delay took place in South Korea with the KBO. One of the stars in the KBO, Ha-Seong Kim, is drawing significant interest from many MLB clubs with his unique power and speed skillset and affordable contract. Kim has played for the Kiwoom Heroes since 2014 (then the Nexon Heroes), when he was just 18 years old.
According to a new report by CBS Sports, Kim has yet to be posted for major league teams, due to the lack of medical information. Nonetheless, Kim will most likely be starting on an MLB infield as the 2021 season rolls around. Here is a scouting report for Ha-Seong Kim, as he transitions from the KBO to MLB.
A Scouting Report for Ha-Seong Kim
The most important tool for Kim is his hitting. With a big leg kick, Kim possesses solid bat speed that makes him a line drive threat to each part of the field. Thus far, Kim strongly prefers his pull side. As seen below, he can get his hands inside of the fastball on the inside corner, while covering the outer edge with similar power. Kim has batted .294 throughout his tenure in the KBO with 36.9% of his base hits going for extra bases.
2 HRs today for 24-year-old Kiwoom SS Ha-seong Kim, one of the top MLB prospects in #KBO — he’s expected to be posted after this season. 116 homers & 120 steals in his career since debuting for the Heroes in 2014 🔥 pic.twitter.com/PT8YzP8nlg
— Céspedes Family BBQ (@CespedesBBQ) July 13, 2020
another HR today for Ha-seong Kim, his 14th of the season! #KBO pic.twitter.com/NX8OtU5Xlr
— Céspedes Family BBQ (@CespedesBBQ) July 14, 2020
In his career, Kim has improved remarkably with his approach at the plate. He has become more patient and chasing fewer pitches outside of the strike zone. Kim had more than two strikeouts per walk in his first full season in the KBO but reduced this number to just 0.91 in the 2020 season. As a result, his strikeout rate has also dropped from 19.8% to 10.9%. This rate will almost definitely be higher in the major leagues. Kim still projects to be at least a .280 hitter at the next level with a solid eye at the plate.
However, scouts have had doubts over Kim’s “long swing.” It could lead to Kim having trouble catching up to the regular upper 90s fastball in the major leagues. Players with long leg kicks, like Ryan Zimmerman, are often very streaky hitters, which could be another worry for Kim at the next level given his adjustment to the higher competition.
While his contact tool makes Kim a solid player, his power is what makes him one of the more highly regarded Korean players in recent memory. Kim has hit 133 home runs in the KBO and finished ninth in that department this season with 30. Despite having the ability to spray the ball to each side of the park, Kim excels at pulling the ball with authority. He has multiple moonshot home runs in the KBO deep into the left-field bleachers. But this could be a cause for concern as “pull happy” hitters have a tendency to open up their lead shoulder, leading to weak contact.
Although Kim has eye-popping home run numbers, he doesn’t have the true upper-cut swing that molds players into the high strikeout and low contact tier. He is more of a natural power hitter, with his line-drive swing. With this swing, Kim also has no trouble catching up to the fastball high in the zone like other sluggers. As mentioned earlier, Kim has yet to consistently face the fastball velocity he will see in the majors. With his ability to catch up with the high fastball this will be a key trait to look for early in his MLB career.
Speed is one of the hardest traits to project from the KBO to the major league level. In 2015, Eric Thames stole 40 bases for the NC Dinos, but he has yet to steal more than seven in the majors. Kim has stolen 74 bases at a 73.6% clip in the KBO. Unlike Thames, Kim looks quicker on the basepaths and on defense, which bodes well for his speed to translate at the next level. This is a key reason for his potential versatility on the infield, with athleticism to play shortstop as well as second and third.
Kim’s career-high in steals in the KBO was 33. He will most likely be in the 20 stolen base range in the major leagues.
While Kim doesn’t have an incredible arm or athleticism, he is still an average to above-average shortstop. He has a relatively strong arm and passable range for a shortstop. If Kim were to join a team like the Toronto Blue Jays, he could seamlessly transition to second base and possibly become a plus defender. His arm could also give him the ability to move to third base if needed.
Kim has committed 103 errors in the KBO, primarily at shortstop, and has occasionally played first, second, and third base. Even scouts who are lower on Kim believe that he has the defensive potential of a utility man, showing his excellent versatility.
MLB Comparison: Trea Turner
The most apt comparison for Ha-Seong Kim, in terms of his mold, is Washington Nationals shortstop Trea Turner. While Kim will never be one of the fastest players in the league like Turner, their similarities in leg kicks and left-field pop makes it a viable comparison. Turner has had two seasons of 19 home runs and is a .296 career hitter. He is also a solid shortstop, who has the ability to make splashy plays but isn’t exactly a gold-glove caliber player at this stage.
Kim will most likely be a better contact hitter than Turner, who has a 2.37 strikeout to walk ratio. However, he will fall short of the speed of Turner on the basepaths. Turner does provide a blueprint for Kim, with his pull side power, sneaky pop, and ability to hit for average.
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