Kim made him­self vi­tal in left field

He and Rickard could make a promis­ing 2-way pla­toon

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Jon Me­oli With the 2016 sea­son fin­ished, there’s no bet­ter time than the present to take stock of the Ori­oles’ or­ga­ni­za­tional depth at ev­ery po­si­tion around the di­a­mond. We’re spend­ing a few weeks break­ing down ev­ery po­si­tion in­di­vid­u­ally and sep­a­rat

The man: De­spite be­ing buried on the bench six of seven days a week for the first two months of the sea­son, Hyun Soo Kim be­came the team’s most reg­u­lar left fielder in 2016. His 335 plate ap­pear­ances there were more than twice those of Nolan Reimold, who had the next most in left field.

When Kim did play, he gave the Ori­oles the steady on-base pres­ence they’ve missed in their of­fense. Kim hit .302 with a .381 on-base per­cent­age this year with six home runs and 16 dou­bles in 95 games. Kim didn’t play of­ten enough to qual­ify for the bat­ting ti­tle, but he was still a reg­u­lar, and his .381 OBP was the high­est among Ori­oles reg­u­lars since Nick Markakis had a .406 in 2008.

Even when roles shifted and rookie Joey Rickard ceded the pri­mary left-field re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to Kim, the 28-year-old Hyun Soo Kim

Korean played only against righthanded starters. That shift oc­curred at the end of May, and with Kim in the lineup ev­ery day, the Ori­oles led the ma­jors in ev­ery of­fen­sive cat­e­gory in June and set a league record for the most home runs that month. Kim hit the record-set­ting 56th homer.

Con­versely, when the team lost its groove of­fen­sively in July, the down­turn co­in­cided with a ham­string in­jury for Kim.

In a lineup in which al­most every­one else swung from his heels, hunt­ing home runs, Kim’s pa­tient, con­tact-ori­ented ap­proach was a nec­es­sary change of pace for the Ori­oles. It took a while, but Kim more than de­liv­ered on the ex­pec­ta­tions he car­ried over from his star turn in the Korean Base­ball Or­ga­ni­za­tion. If any­thing, he was un­der­used as the sea­son went on. The al­ter­na­tives: While Kim be­gan the sea­son on the bench, the Ori­oles set­tled into what was es­sen­tially a three-man out­field pla­toon at the cor­ners. Rickard’s out­stand­ing spring se­cured him an ev­ery­day role for the first two months of the sea­son, most of which in left field. When the Ori­oles faced a left-handed starter, Reimold would play left field, with Rickard in right and Mark Trumbo serv­ing as des­ig­nated hit­ter.

Once Rickard’s role was re­duced, he shifted into a pla­toon with Kim and played mostly against left-handed pitch­ers, against whomhe hit .313 with an .861 OPS. Over­all, Rickard hit .268/.319/.377 with five home runs and a team-high four stolen bases. His sea­son ended in July when he tore a thumb lig­a­ment, though he’s ex­pected to be fully healthy for spring train­ing.

Reimold started out hot but be­came the odd man out when Kim as­cended to a more prominent role, and he fin­ished the year bat­ting .222 with a .664 OPS and six home runs in 104 games.

Oth­ers who played left field were Trumbo, Steve Pearce, Drew Stubbs, Michael Bourn, Julio Bor­bon and Ryan Fla­herty. The fu­ture: Two prominent names head­line the Ori­oles’ in­ven­tory in left field: 2015 first-round pick DJ Ste­wart and slug­ger Chris­tian Walker.

Ste­wart had a dif­fi­cult start in Hyun Soo Kim hit .302 in 2016 with a .381 on-base per­cent­age, the high­est among Ori­oles reg­u­lars since Nick Markakis had a .406 OBP in 2008. Low-A Del­marva this year, bat­ting .230 en­ter­ing the All-Star break, but he turned it on af­ter a mid­sea­son pro­mo­tion to High-A Fred­er­ick. There, Ste­wart hit .279/.389/.448 with 20 ex­tra-base hits in 59 games. He’s aim­ing to build on that suc­cess in the Ari­zona Fall League.

Walker started only in the out­field this sea­son. With Chris Davis ce­mented at first base and Trey Mancini’s star on the rise there, Walker shifted to left field and started 90 games there this sea­son for Triple-A Nor­folk. Re­ports from scouts on his de­fense weren’t en­cour­ag­ing, though the po­si­tion change didn’t af­fect Walker at the plate. For the sec­ond straight year, Walker hit 18 home runs for the Tides, adding 29 dou­bles while bat­ting .264/.321/.437 in 131 games.

There were a host of other mi­nor league play­ers who played all three out­field po­si­tions and en­joyed some suc­cess, but few are pri­mar­ily left field­ers. Two in the low mi­nors jump out — one for his per­for­mance and one for his po­ten­tial.

Ran­dolph Gas­s­away was drafted in 2013 and be­gan in rookie ball for the third straight year but was quickly el­e­vated to Del­marva, where he hit .330 with an .883 OPS and seven home runs in 50 games for the Shore­birds.

At short-sea­son Sin­gle-A Aber- deen, Jaylen Fer­gu­son hit just .183 with two home runs in 50 games, but he is only 19 with a wiry, athletic frame and the abil­ity to gen­er­ate back­spin. That gives him an up­side rarely seen in this or­ga­ni­za­tion. The skinny: Left field was seem­ingly in flux for the Ori­oles all sea­son, but the pieces are in place for as pro­duc­tive a pla­toon as you’ll find in 2017, should they go that route.

A full sea­son in the United States, plus a more pro­duc­tive spring train­ing, could give Kim the op­por­tu­nity to play ev­ery day, against both righ­tand left-han­ders. He didn’t have a hit off a left-han­der all year, but he didn’t get many op­por­tu­ni­ties.

A more re­al­is­tic op­tion would be to put Kim, who hit well off righthanders, and Rickard, whose value comes against left-handed pitch­ing, into a pla­toon. Given the lack of left-handed pitch­ing, Kim still would play most of games, and both would be well used. Rickard can pro­vide a spark off the bench late in games when he doesn’t play, too.

En­ter­ing this sea­son, it was hard to see a way Kim and Rickard could be on the ros­ter to­gether.

Now that it’s over, it’s hard to imag­ine the ros­ter with­out them.

KEN­NETH K. LAM/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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