Few SF Giants fans probably know who Ha-seong Kim is, but the 25-year old shortstop could be the next international free-agent to take Major League Baseball by storm.
Multiple international free-agents officially became available to MLB teams on Tuesday. While Yomiuri Giants ace Tomoyuki Sugano has gotten plenty of headlines, Korean shortstop Ha-seong Kim was posted by the Kiwoom Heroes, according to a report by Jon Morosi of MLB Network. Only 25-years old, Kim is a rare international free-agent prospect with big-time potential. Every team, including the SF Giants should be interested.
Before this season, Baseball America’s Kyle Glaser ranked Kim the best prospect in the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO). Glaser complimented his rare combination of power, speed, and defensive ability, adding that he would be a top 100 prospect in MLB if he were stateside. That was before a career year in 2020.
Kim had 622 plate appearances across 138 games for the Heroes this year. He blasted a career-high 30 home runs and posted the best triple-slash (.306/.397/.523) of his career. Perhaps most impressively, Kim walked more than he struck out for the first time in his career (75 walks to 68 strikeouts) as well. Just for good measure, he stole 23 bases in 25 attempts.
He pretty consistently receives 50-55 grades (MLB average to above-average) with his glove at shortstop, but he has the arm and athleticism to move around the diamond. While he’d played almost entirely shortstop for the first six seasons of his career, he started 41 games at third base this season. There’s no reason to believe he could not handle other positions if necessary.
Playing in the KBO, Kim’s translation to the Major Leagues will face a larger jump in competition than someone like Sugano (coming from the NPB). Known for their hitter-friendly environments, it’s not uncommon for players to post impressive offensive numbers in Korea but struggle to carry that success elsewhere.
However, Kim is a unique prospect. He just turned 25-years old in October and made his KBO debut at 18-years old. In his first full season (at just 19), Kim hit 35 doubles, 19 home runs, stole 22 bases (26 attempts), and posted an impressive .290/.362/.489 triple-slash. Even if the KBO is closer to High-A or Double-A competition than what he’ll face in the big leagues, the fact that he had so much success so young makes him stand out anyway.
Far from a one-dimensional contributor, Kim has legitimate five-tool potential. He could very easily become a 20-20 player. Given his age, potential, and flexibility, he is the kind of player that every team should want.
The SF Giants current starting shortstop, Brandon Crawford, is coming off a solid 2020 campaign. Set for free agency after next season, though, the franchise needs to be contemplating their long-term options at the position. While top prospect Marco Luciano could be ready soon, many scouts are concerned about his defensive future. If Luciano has to transition to third base or an outfield corner, there are no primary shortstops among the Giants top ten prospects.
Signing Ha-seong Kim this offseason would enable the team to make him their primary second baseman this season and move Donovan Solano to a super pinch-hitter role. Against left-handed pitchers, Kim could shift to shortstop, and Solano could slot into Crawford’s spot in the lineup. Then, assuming he played well, the Giants could head into next offseason knowing Kim was their full-time shortstop going forward.
If Luciano is ready by the end of 2022, third baseman Evan Longoria will likely be a free agent after the season. Whichever player between Kim and Luciano is better equipped for the hot corner could make the transition, and just like that, the franchise would have seamlessly transitioned the left side of their infield for the future.
The more anyone looks at Kim, the harder it is to understand why his free agency is not a bigger deal. Dan Szymborski’s ZIPS projections for Kim suggest teams should be making an all-out run for the young shortstop. Even after adjusting for the quality of competition he faced in the KBO, ZIPS projects Kim to be worth at least 3.5 WAR, hitting at least 20 home runs and stealing 15 bases every year.
Yet, the buzz around Kim seems relatively quiet. Teams are expected to be cheaper this offseason, and it makes sense that with less flexibility, front offices would be more cautious about targeting players who have yet to play in the MLB. It’s also possible that travel and attendance restrictions prevented teams from scouting Kim as heavily this season as they may have wanted. Still, both seem like short-sighted reasons not to pursue him.
Craig Edwards at FanGraphs predicted Kim would sign a five-year, $60 million contract, but that remains easily the high mark. MLB Trade Rumors projected Kim would sign a five-year, $40 million deal, and ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel was even more conservative, estimating just a four-year, $20 million pact. Any of those deals seem incredibly reasonable for someone of Kim’s potential.
The SF Giants want starting pitchers. Their offense had a breakout 2020 season, and the majority of their lineup is under team control for next season. However, they should be concerned about losing out on a future star because they get caught up in their needs today. The franchise is not far from needing to replace their starting shortstop. Ha-seong Kim looks like just the player for the job.