Kim made himself vital in left field
He and Rickard could make a promising 2-way platoon
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.