After a rocky 2016 Spring Training and refusing to accept an outright to the Minor Leagues, Hyun Soo Kim emerged as a fan favorite and held his own in his rookie year in the Major Leagues. And while the Orioles continue to search for upgrades to their outfield and seek to improve their defense and add a left-handed bat, Kim could be poised for an even better 2017.
"I think about all the things that challenged him last year that are not going to challenge him this year, and we talk about guys that could go to another level, I think he's got that potential," manager Buck Showalter said of Kim, who started just four games in April before ultimately batting .302/.382/.420 in 95 games.
"We saw flashes of it. You know, the left-handed-pitching thing just kind of snowballed," Showalter said of Kim going hitless in 17 at-bats vs. southpaws. "He's a lot better than that. I think he's an adequate defender, a guy that I could play in right field instead of left field if we needed to, especially in our ballpark."
The Orioles won't say publicly whether they like the idea of Kim playing in the World Baseball Classic, which will disrupt his Spring Training, though there's no debate that the outfielder will be in a less stressful situation next year -- regardless of where he spends the spring.
Kim, who was booed on Opening Day at Camden Yards, earned more playing time due to injuries and underperformance elsewhere on the roster. He got 17 starts in June and batted .333 with a .422 on-base percentage in 20 games overall that month.
Could Kim be a solution to the Orioles' leadoff-man hole?
"He's got [the] statistical skills," Showalter said.
"I think we're seeing the evolution of a lot of things, as we viewed them growing up. So what's the most important attribute of a leadoff guy? Only leading off one time per game, once, and we put so much on this. So I guess it's on-base percentage."
Kim, 28, will be entering the second and final year of his contract, which stipulates that he will be a free agent (and not arbitration-eligible) after the 2017 season.
Brittany Ghiroli has covered the Orioles for MLB.com since 2010. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, follow her on Facebook and Twitter @britt_ghiroli, and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.