- April 17, 2021: Cardinals left-hander Kwang Hyun Kim made his highly anticipated 2021 debut with his start against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. The club has been careful with Kim since he experienced back tightness last month.
“He’s a full-go, otherwise we would not have put him in the rotation,” manager Mike Shildt said. “He threw a really good bullpen [Thursday] and there are a lot of positive things coming out with KK. He’s ready to rock and roll, and we are excited to see him pitch.”
The Cardinals signed Kim prior to the 2020 season to a two-year, $8 million deal after he spent a dozen seasons pitching for SK Wyverns in Korea. He started last season as the closer and made himself an important part of the rotation after sporting a 1.62 ERA in eight games (seven starts).
One thing he hasn’t done is hit. Kim has only three career plate appearances as a professional, the last of which came in 2010 in Korea.
“I’m not really a good hitter right now,” Kim said through his interpreter. “But when I hit it, it goes to the outfield. I feel good with it. My teammates actually clap.” (J Sanchez - MLB.com - April 17, 2021)
|Birth City:||Seoul, South Korea|
|Draft:||Cardinals - 2019 - Out of the Korea Baseball Organization|
In the 2008 Olympics, Kim beat Japan in the semifinals to set up Korea's gold medal win against Cuba. Because of that gold medal, he and Hyun-Jin Ryu are exempt from the two years of military service that usually interrupts Korean baseball players' careers.
On November 13, 2014, the Padres won the bidding rights for Kwang Hyun Kim, with a $2 million offer. San Diego would be required to pay the fee only if it reaches an agreement to sign the player.
In his free time, Kim plays video games (League of Legends is one of his favorite) and watches Korean movies (he’s seen “Parasite” many times, and he enjoys action movies). Choi likes watching Korean documentaries, and he follows the news to stay on top of when baseball may return. (Anne Rogers - May 18, 2020)
In 2020, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated Kwan-Hyun as the 7th best Cardinals prospect.
- Dec. 18, 2019: The Cardinals signed free agent Kim, via Scout Matt Slater. The deal is worth $8 million, and the Cardinals will pay a 20 percent posting fee ($1.6 million) to the SK Wyverns, the team Kim played for in the Korean Baseball Organization for 12 years.
Kim has an 89-93 mph FASTBALL that grades 45, on the 20-80 scouting scale. He has a very good 85-87 mph SLIDER with sharp break that grades 55. He has a 45 grade slow 68-72 mph CURVEBALL. His 82-84 mph CHANGEUP is 60 grade because of his well above-average command.
Kwang-Hyun locates on the edges of the strike zone and has a unique movement profile that helps his pitches play up. He has 60 grade for Control.
Kim mostly relies on soft contact for success and induces a high volume of ground balls, helping him to work quickly and avoid damage. Kim can’t blow away hitters, but he can keep them from squaring him up. He has earned a spot in the Cardinals’ 2021 rotation. (J.J. Cooper - Baseball America Prospect Handbook - Spring, 2021)
2020 Season Pitch Usage: 4-seam Fastball 48.4% of the time, his Change 7.9%; Slider 32.3%; and Curve 11.4% of the time. Average velocity: 4-seam 90.2 mph, Change 80.7, Slider 83.4, and Curve 70.4 mph.
Kwang-Hyun comes at hitters from a high three-quarters delivery. He gets full extension from his left arm. He is very hard for lefthanded batters to hit.
Kim's nickname is "KK." He will wear No. 33 for the Cardinals.
In 2019 in South Korea, he went 17-6 with a 2.51 ERA and 180 strikeouts over 190 innings in 31 games (30 starts). He had excellent control with a walk rate of 1.8 per nine innings
Feb 10, 2020: Kwang-Hyun Kim reported to camp early to get a feel for the clubhouse and those working for the club before a ton of his teammates were around.
It was a light training day for Kim before the Cardinals get their first look at their new pitcher, which is when the first official workout for pitchers and catchers will be held. He ran around the warning track on Field 1, played catch with John Gant alongside 15 other pitchers and went through fielding drills on the practice field with Cardinals pitchers and coaches. Kim hopes to have a good feel of the complex and what’s expected of him.
Kim’s preparation for his first Major League Spring Training, though, started shortly after he signed with the Cardinals. He trained for a few days in January with Blue Jays pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu and talked to him about life in the United States. And before coming to camp, Kim spent time in Vero Beach, Fla. (about an hour north of Jupiter), training with his old team, the SK Wyverns of the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO).
Despite 12 seasons in the KBO, the 31-year-old is treating his first Major League season as his rookie campaign, and he can’t wait to earn a spot on the roster.
“The season has to come, but any role the team wants, I want and will accept that,” Kim said through his translator, Craig Choi.
Kim is on a starter’s schedule this spring and will look to earn a rotation spot. The Cardinals intend for him and Carlos Martínez to duel for the fifth rotation spot, but Kim could also flourish and beat an incumbent in the rotation, as well. But Kim's flexibility is an asset, too. He could also provide another left-handed option in the bullpen; his fastball-slider combination certainly has the look of a successful relief pitcher.
“As for the schedule, I’m on a starter’s schedule,” Kim said. “I’ll do my best. I want to be a starter, but as the season goes, we will see the result.”
STARTER OR RELIEVER
July 21, 2020: Shildt said that Kim will open the season as the Cardinals' closer. (Editor's note: Kim had one save for the Cardinals in 2020 as the team went with a closer-by-committee approach. Kim ended up as a starting pitcher instead.)
Kwang-Hyun in his new role as the Cardinals’ closer said he’ll be ready to go on Opening Day 2020 for whatever the Cardinals need from him out of the bullpen. “I respect what the team announced,” Kim said through interpreter Craig Choi. “As I said when I signed with the Cardinals, contributing to the team, winning the games, that’s the most important thing. I will do my best with my new role to help the team win many games.”
When Kim was asked how much experience he has closing, he laughed. He has zero regular-season saves over 12 years in the KBO and two postseason saves in the 2010 and 2018 Korean Series. But he has already reached out to other closers and leaned on his teammates and coaches to learn how to best approach his new role. The Cardinals have had plenty of pitchers transition between the bullpen and the rotation during their Major League careers. Adam Wainwright, famously, started in the bullpen as a rookie. Carlos Martínez has had successful stints in a relief role as well.
“All these guys basically started in the bullpen for us and then worked their way to starter, as they were mostly starters coming up through the system,” manager Mike Shildt said. “I don’t want to minimize the transition to be easy, but I do think he’ll adjust to it quickly and is doing everything he can to make sure he’s got his head around it.”
Kim has already begun to think about the transition to the bullpen. His velocity might increase and he understands the importance of every pitch in one inning. He’s also begun to get out of the superstitious habits he has as a starter, like not eating meat the day before a start and a strict timeline of what his starting day looks like. An hour before the game, he does sprints. Thirty minutes prior to first pitch, he starts to throw. Not one second early, not one second late, he said.“Now as a bullpen guy, you just don’t know when I’ll play in the game, so I don’t have to follow all the superstitions,” Kim said. “When I’m pitching, I’ll just pitch like what I’m confident with on that day. After the game, whether I win or not, I’ll try not to regret what I did that day. I want to say thank you to Shildty [for] giving me this opportunity as a closer and I will do my best to help the team win many games.” (Rogers - mlb.com - 7/21/2020)
2020 Season: As MLB teams increasingly value things like velocity, spin rate, and whiff rate, Kwang-Hyun Kim succeeded last season despite being among the worst qualified pitchers in all of those things. His fastball and curveball spin rates were both well below average, with his curveball spin rate putting him in just the 9th percentile. Additionally, his fastball averaged just 89.9 mph. Therefore, it is not surprising that Kim ranked in just the 4th percentile in whiff rate (18.3%) and the 8th percentile in strikeout rate (15.6%).
Kim is certainly not the embodiment of the modern, high spin, high velocity pitcher. Despite this, he was still successful in 2020. The righthander posted a 1.62 ERA and a 3.88 FIP to go with a 3.81 xERA and 4.52 xFIP. It is clear that Kim will not repeat his ERA next season, as he posted just a .217 BABIP and 86.6% left on base rate. Both of these numbers are unsustainable as they were both career bests for the 32-year-old. However, while he is likely to regress in terms of run prevention, there is no reason that he cannot maintain his solid FIP and give good, back-end of the rotation production.
Kim’s low strikeout rate is unlikely to improve. However, Kim is very good at preventing walks and allowing weak contact. Kim walked just 7.8% of the batters he faced last season (60th percentile) while also allowing an average exit velocity of 87.1 mph (71st percentile) and a barrel rate of just 4.2% (84th percentile). Additionally, Kim posted a 50% groundball rate. (Blake Newberry - Jan 10, 2021)
March 15, 2021: Left-hander Kwang Hyun Kim (back stiffness) made a return to throwing, manager Mike Shildt said after a 4-2 Grapefruit League win over the Nationals
“I hesitate to tell you we're ahead of schedule to get back to throwing, but we are,” Shildt said. “So I will. And it could be today or tomorrow, which again is ahead of what we initially thought, so that's encouraging.” He started the season on the IL.
March 29-April 17, 2021: Kwang Hyun Kim (back tightness) could miss two to three turns in the rotation, Mozeliak said. He’ll throw again this weekend after appearing in a Grapefruit League game on Saturday but will not travel with the Cardinals to Cincinnati.
“We just have to see how he responds each time he gets that opportunity [to throw],” Mozeliak said.