INCHEON, Nov. 2 (Yonhap) — Having displayed much-improved defensive skills in his second season with the San Diego Padres, South Korean shortstop Kim Ha-seong will now shift his focus on hitting.
Kim returned home early Wednesday following the end of his sophomore big league campaign, in which he became a Gold Glove finalist at shortstop but was an average hitter at the plate with a .251/.325/.383 line in 150 games.
Before taking his talent to the majors, Kim had been one of the best hitters in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO). He offered a rare combination of power and contact ability from a position that doesn’t often yield much offensive production.
“I think I was able to show improvements from last year. Though I feel like I still have a long way to go, I played the full season without getting hurt,” Kim told reporters gathered at Incheon International Airport. “I think I have a lot of work to do at the plate. But with the full season under my belt, I believe I should be able to put up better offensive numbers next year.”
To that end, Kim said he will have his personal hitting instructor, Choi Won-je, fly in from the United States sometime in November to help him.
“I should be able to start my offseason training earlier than usual,” Kim added.
Kim spent his rookie campaign moving all across the diamond, handling shortstop, second base and third base duties. But the door of opportunity opened up at shortstop this year when the incumbent Fernando Tatis Jr. suffered an offseason wrist injury and later received suspension after testing positive for a banned substance.
“I’ve always been confident in myself, and this year, I got a good opportunity and I did my best to capitalize on it,” Kim said. “I worked hard on my defense heading into this year because I was not satisfied with how I played last year. I corrected my posture and some of the tweaks worked out well. I feel more comfortable playing defense now.”
Kim said he was especially happy with being named a Gold Glove finalist, though, hours after Kim landed, Major League Baseball (MLB) announced Dansby Swanson of the Atlanta Braves had nabbed the award at the shortstop position in the National League.
Kim also made his postseason debut this fall, as the Padres reached the National League Championship Series (NLCS) after slashing a pair of 100-win juggernauts, the New York Mets and then the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Kim counted upsetting the Dodgers, who’d won an MLB-best 111 games in the regular season, in the NL Division Series as one of the most memorable moments of the 2022 season.
Kim’s first MLB postseason ended in an NL Championship Series loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, but while in Korea, he will be rooting for his former KBO club, Kiwoom Heroes, in the Korean Series. They beat the SSG Landers 7-6 in Game 1 Tuesday night while Kim was traveling.
“My old teammates said I should come and cheer for them. And I told them I would go only if San Diego misses the World Series,” Kim said with a smile. “We were eliminated early so I guess I have to go watch my guys play.”
Following Kim’s departure, outfielder Lee Jung-hoo has stepped up as the offensive leader of the Heroes. Lee is the leading contender for the regular season MVP after winning his second straight batting title and leading the KBO in four other major categories. He is batting .400 in 10 games this postseason.
Lee, 24, is eligible for posting for MLB clubs after the 2023 season.
“I think Lee Jung-hoo is good enough to play in MLB right away, and MLB teams seem to have a lot of interest in him,” Kim said. “I’ve been asked about him quite a bit. I’ve been in touch with Jung-hoo the whole season and he’s also interested in the majors. But for now, I hope he plays well in the Korean Series.”
Kim and Lee may be reunited as teammates when South Korea plays in the World Baseball Classic next March. Kim said he is “leaning toward” playing in the tournament and has discussed that possibility with the Padres.