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Milwaukee Brewers Free Agent Targets: Ha-Seong Kim

He is young and possibly affordable at a premium position.

LG Twins v Kiwoom Heroes Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

Do the Milwaukee Brewers really need a shortstop? Orlando Arcia evolved into a league average hitter in 2020, and the Brewers’ front office and coaching staff are high on the potential of Luis Urias. So why covet someone at the six?

The position of shortstop in the 2020-21 marketplace has proven players available either in free agency and trade, thus somewhat flooding the market with a commodity with limited need. A team with an incumbent shortstop could actually upgrade at the position, and possibly for less cost than in normal years. The Brewers fit this description, and arguably the most enticing shortstop on the free agent market is KBO superstar Ha-Seong Kim.

While there was a small delay due to a snag with paperwork related to medical document requests from MLB, the Kiwoom Heroes did get Kim posted for MLB teams to start bidding for his services. The deadline for Kim to sign with a MLB team is Christmas Day.

Many in the baseball world look upon Kim very highly. Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors rated Kim as the #7 free agent available. Dan Szymborski of Fangraphs writes about Kim:

Normally, a player like this would get north of $100 million, though it remains to be seen just how teams will view him this winter given the possibility for additional perceived risk for a player from a different league. If Kim comes to the majors and doesn't get a guaranteed contract worth $50 million, some team likely got a helluva deal from their point-of-view. Pretty much every team that’s near contention and without a good shortstop already should strongly consider Kim this offseason.

Szymborski went on to project Kim as follows:

ZIPS Projections for Ha-Seong Kim
Dan Szymborski

A 3.5-4.0 WAR player taking over at shortstop for the Milwaukee Brewers at $10 million per year for five years (plus posting costs) would be a bargain. Plus there is the added benefit that Kim can also play third base. When Addison Russell went over from the Chicago Cubs to play for the Heroes, Kim played 55 games at the hot corner. He still logged 96 games at shortstop, so he did not acquiesce the position entirely, nor should he unless he demonstrates elite skills at third base a la Milwaukee’s old friend, Manny Machado.

There are other reasons to be excited about Kim for any acquiring team. First of all, he is still young. Kim just turned 25 years old. With that youth, he has seven years of professional baseball logged in the Korean Baseball Organization. While not at the level of MLB or Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball, it is generally regarding something approaching the AAA level. When you look at what Kim did at this level of baseball, he would be regarded as one of the best prospects in baseball ready to make his move to the big leagues. In fact he was probably ready for that move two years ago.

Over Kim’s seven year career in the KBO, he put up these numbers:

Offensive numbers in KBO for Ha-Seong Kim

Kim also hit 30 home runs in 2020, the most of his career. There is a power/hit tool mix that is hard to overlook with him. The question remains — will it translate to the major leagues? To get an idea of what Kim looks like, below is a YouTube video that you can look at, not only in this article, but in essentially every American article seemingly written about him. As you view it, however, look at his approach. It is my contention that he would have to change his approach to be effective against good-to-elite major league pitching. Not surprisingly, MLB velocity up in the zone would be the area of concern most acute.

These are highlights of Kim, so his ability to put the barrel on the ball on a consistent basis is something that I cannot attest too. However, he does demonstrate that skillset in these highlights. His numbers suggest that he probably has that ability. Kim also seems to be a very good low-ball hitter. He drops his bat head on balls low in the zone, and in the case of these highlights, crushes many of them.

My concern regarding Kim is that the pitchers throwing to him are obviously not of the same caliber as he would face in MLB. For example, I cannot recall anyone challenging Kim up in the zone with velocity from the video highlights. That will happen once he comes to the states a lot. Kim sees a lot of off-speed and breaking stuff, and his swing illustrates that. It is long and stays in the zone for a long time. That is actually a good thing. Yet how he approaches the 96-99 mph fastball will determine his success.

His hands start high, which allows him to wait back on the ball. Can he continue to do that? Someone that does do that is Mike Trout. Trout is an elite hitter with balls down in the zone, and Kim seems to have similar approach. Trout has learned to get to fastballs up in the zone, which was quite possibly the only way pitchers were able to get him out earlier in his career. Now Trout is effective against that pitch. Kim would have to make a similar adjustment, and he likely will make the adjustment as he sees big league pitching.

To see similarity with Trout in terms of hitting approach, see the Trout video below and compare to Kim. Both have their hands high and they have similar loading process. Kim’s hands do come out from the body more, and that might be where the adjustment should take place.

In the Trout video, you will see right after the highlight where he robs Christian Yelich of a home run, he faces the type of pitcher one would see in the KBO with lower velocity but strong breaking- and off-speed stuff. Trout’s swing is longer and remains in the zone a long time. The swing looks like some of Kim’s swings in the highlight video above. Trout has less hand separation than Kim, yet when Trout waits back, that hand separation becomes more.

Kim does not see the level of velocity that Trout and other major leaguers see, but as he does, he will most likely adjust and the reduction of his hand separation might be one of the ways. What we can see in Kim is a player that knows how to get the barrel to the baseball. We see a player that adjusts well within the hitting zone. We see a player with power. We don’t see Mike Trout, but we do see the potential of a really talented player that would look good in a Brewers’ uniform.

Baseball statistics courtesy of Fangraphs