SEOUL, Oct. 19 (Yonhap) — Whenever questions about his potential jump to Major League Baseball (MLB) come up, Kiwoom Heroes’ shortstop Kim Ha-seong says he would rather not discuss the matter until after the season.
Kim’s Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) club is expected to post the 25-year-old for big league clubs this winter. The Heroes promised him as much last year. Kim’s chances of landing a deal through posting and his possible destination have been a subject of speculation on both sides of the Pacific. But with the Heroes locked in a tight pennant race, Kim, understandably so, doesn’t want his own future to be a distraction to his team’s pursuit of a championship.
So we’ll let one of Kim’s teammates stump for him.
“I absolutely think he can be a competitive major league player,” said Kiwoom outfielder Lee Jung-hoo following his team’s 7-4 victory over the Doosan Bears last Friday. “When it comes to his fielding, hitting and baserunning, he’s truly a five-tool player. I don’t think I can say that about any other player in the league.”
They’ve been teammates for four years, and they also have some neat personal connection. When Kim reached his 100th RBI in a season for the first time on Aug. 30, 2017, Lee scored that run. And when Lee recorded his 100th RBI for the first time in his career Friday, Kim returned the favor by scoring all the way from first base.
So Lee may be biased in his assessment of Kim — though not by much.
Kim has picked the perfect time to have the best season of his career. Through Sunday, Kim is batting .309/.401/.529, all career highs if the season ended today. He has also established a personal high with 30 home runs. With 109 RBIs, Kim is five away from tying his career high with two games remaining. He also has more walks (75) than strikeouts (67) for the first time in his career.
Kim was shifted over to third base during the summer when the Heroes signed Addison Russell, former National League All-Star at shortstop. With his athleticism and cannon for an arm, Kim proved he could handle the hot corner. And as Russell continued to struggle both on the field and at the plate, the Heroes moved Kim back to his natural position and made Russell play second base instead.
Kim’s power and speed are abundantly clear on the field. And Lee said he has observed firsthand how strong Kim also is mentally.
“I’ve been watching closely how he goes about his preparations and how he deals with slumps and other challenges,” Lee said. “And I think he already has the mental fortitude of a major league player.”
If Kim signs a big league deal next year, the Heroes will then have produced three major league players in a five-year span. The two that came before Kim are: Kang Jung-ho, who signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2015, and Park Byung-ho, signed by the Minnesota Twins in 2016.
And given his career trajectory, Lee may well be the fourth. Over his first three seasons, the 2017 Rookie of the Year established himself as the KBO’s premier contact hitter. Then in 2020, Lee added a power dimension to his offensive profile. He has already belted 15 home runs, nine more than his previous career high, and has surpassed the century mark in RBIs for the first time with 101. Lee also owns the KBO single season record with 49 doubles, and his .529 slugging percentage is his personal best by more than 50 points.
KBO players must complete seven full seasons to be eligible for posting. Lee will have to wait until 2023 to reach that point. And he already knows what he wants to do once he gets there.
“If I have an opportunity (to make that jump) and if I feel like I have what it takes, then I would like to play in the majors,” Lee said. “I have three years left. It may seem like a long time for some but not long enough for others. The key for me is how much better I can get over that time. I’ll keep trying to improve.”