Just as Buck Showalter waited too long Tueday night to bring Zach Britton into the AL wild card game, I waited too long to comment on the odd year of Hyun Soo Kim.
Kim and the Orioles are done now, having lost the wild card game to the Toronto Blue Jays
Dedicated readers may recall that I made my biennial trip to spring training this year, and it came in early March. One of the games I saw at Hammond Stadium was against the Baltinore Orioles, and it brought out a TON of Korean media, because it involved two high-profile Koreans who had come over to the States: Byung Ho Park of the Twins and Kim of the O's.
Neither distinguished himself in that contest. Kim, to be blunt, didn't distinguish himself at all in March, and Showalter (and the Oriole front office) entered the season trying to get the outfielder to waive his contractual clause prohibiting his demotion.
Kim refused. And he saw little playing time early in the season. But by the end of May he was in the lineup pretty consistently, and he wound up slashing .302/.382/.420, albeit in less than 350 plate appearances. Showalter allowed Kim only 22 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers, and he never got a hit against a southpaw.
It was an odd thing this spring, however. The Twins entered the regular season feeling comfortable with Park as the DH, and the Orioles entered it believing Kim couldn't play in the majors. Park wound up in the minors (and having his season end early for hand surgery), and Kim was a significant help to a playoff team.
Kim and Park are significantly different kinds of players; Park is a first baseman and power guy, Kim an on-base guy. Then there's Jung Ho Kang, the Pittsburgh infielder, roughly the same age as Park and Kim, whose season didn't get started until May because of the broken leg he sustained late in the 2015 season and who missed a good bit of time in August with another injury. Kang was a more productive hitter, albeit in less playing time, in 2016; he also was restricted to third base in the field.
The Twins have a significant number of players limited to first base and designated hitter: Joe Mauer, Park, Kennys Vargas, maybe Miguel Sano. I'm sure there are plenty of fans willing to discard Park this winter. I don't share that notion. I suspect Park's hand/wrist issues had more to do with his struggles than we know, and there's nothing so far in the careers of Kim and Kang that suggest that Korean stars are automatically overmatched in the American majors.