Kim hits with power, showing quick hands.
Kim debuted as a teenager in the KBO, allowing him to push for his team to post him at a much earlier age than most stars in South Korea and Japan.
2020: Throughout his career to date, Kim has been an above-average player in Korea, but his game soared to new heights in 2019 even as the KBO altered the composition of its ball in order to cut back on the league’s hitter-friendly environment. Since 2019, Kim has batted .307/.393/.500 with 49 home runs, 62 doubles, three triples and a 56-for-62 showing in stolen base attempts.
He’s been 42 percent better than a league-average hitter there over the past two seasons, by measure of wRC+. Back in May, Baseball America’s Kyle Glaser wrote that signing Kim would be akin to inking a Top 100 prospect. ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel and FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen have expressed similar sentiments, calling Kim a potential regular at second base, shortstop or third base in MLB.
Hea-Seong saved his best for last and hit .330 with a career-high 30 home runs, 109 RBIs and 23 stolen bases for Kiwoom in 2020. The Heroes posted him after the season.
In 2021, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated Kim as the 5th-best prospect in the Padres organization.
2021 Season: Kim signed with the Padres out of the KBO. While he was a star in Korea, the two leagues don’t have the same level of competition. According to scouts that Kyle Glaser talked to, the KBO is somewhere between Double-A and Triple-A.
One of the most significant differences is the level of pitching. The average fastball in the KBO is around 88 mph, while the average MLB fastball is over 92 mph. Now think about facing pitchers that can crank it up to 100 mph. The biggest task for Kim this season was adjusting to a broader range of pitch velocities and seeing movement on those pitches.
The high velocities weren’t a problem for Kim. He successfully changed his timing and bat speed to meet the increase in velocity. On cutters, sinkers, and 2-seam fastballs that are 90 mph or higher, Kim had a .900 OPS. It was the absence of velocity that fooled Kim.
Despite struggling to produce on off-speed and breaking balls, his approach was on par with the rest of the league. His 23.8 K% is better than the league average, and his 7.4 BB% is slightly below the league average.
His average exit velocity of 86.7 mph doesn’t jump off the page. It’s comparable to fellow second basemen Jake Cronenworth and Adam Frazier. Both of them have become successful by trading power for contact. Kim may choose to do the same in the coming years.
Still, Kim posted a 70 wRC+ this season when 100 wRC+ represents the average MLB player. His bat was below average, but for 2021 he gets a slight break while adjusting to the new pitching.
Where did Kim shine? On the field, he was one of the best Padres. His 6.2 defensive WAR only trails Manny Machado (6.5) among Padre position players. Kim’s numbers stand out even more when you realize he played 664 fewer innings than Machado. He also logged over 100 innings at second, third, and shortstop. (Evan Anderson - Oct. 8, 2021)
2022 Season: Regular Season Statistics
3.7 fWAR, 150 G, .251 AVG, .325 OBP, .383 SLG, 107 OPS+, 58 R, 59 RBI, 11 HR
Positives From This Season
Ha-Seong Kim had some pressure on him to start the season because he had to do his best to fill in for Fernando Tatis Jr. at shortstop. Then after the trade deadline, more pressure was put on him because we all learned Kim would be the starting shortstop the rest of the year.
I’d say he dealt with that pressure pretty darn well, as the fan base (and the team) isn’t just handing the shortstop position back to Tatis. There is actual debate about if Tatis should play the outfield so that Kim, a Gold Glove finalist, can play shortstop in 2023.
While Jurickson Profar led off most of the time, Kim still led off in 17 regular season games because of how good he was performing at the plate. The 27-year-old hit .314 in July and finished the regular season with a .729 OPS in the last two months of the season heading into the postseason.
Kim came up huge in Game 4 of the NLDS, as he doubled in a run down the third base line to help finish off the Dodgers.
Looking back on the 2022 regular season, it’s impossible to say it wasn’t a success. Kim’s average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS and OPS+ all improved compared to his rookie season. His strikeout percentage decreased and walk rate increased as well. (Ben Fadden@Ben_Fadden - Nov 4, 2022)
Jan. 2023: Kim committed to play for Team Korea in the WBC.
Major League Baseball appears poised to take the thrills of a Dodgers-Padres series onto the international stage.
The two clubs are expected to open the 2024 season with a pair of games in Korea, sources told The Athletic, in what would be the first MLB games to take place in the country. The contests would likely take place in Seoul, where current Padres infielder Ha-Seong Kim starred for the Kiwoom Heroes. The Heroes’ home ballpark, Gocheok Sky Dome, hosted first-round games for the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
“It’s going to be a great opportunity to show the world the passion of Korean baseball fans,” Kim said through interpreter Leo Bae. “I hope we draw a lot of fans, and I hope a lot of amateur baseball players come to the game and see major-league baseball players play.”
The Dodgers were the first team to have a Korean-born player on its roster, with Chan Ho Park making his major-league debut in 1994 and pitching for the club for nine seasons. (Ardaya/Lin - May 7, 2023 - The Athletic)
It was almost three decades ago that Chan Ho Park took the mound at Dodger Stadium as the first Korean-born player in the major leagues.
There, strangers would ask if he was Chinese. The smell of kimchi would wrinkle his teammates’ noses.
“Now,” Park said, “everybody loves Korean food, Korean barbecue.” South Korean music, movies and television shows are popular around the globe. The Oxford English Dictionary recently added the word “hallyu,” or Korean wave.
And in this new world, a slick-fielding 27-year-old from Bucheon, South Korea, is thriving.
It was just three months ago that Ha-Seong Kim, the San Diego Padres’ starting second baseman, stepped into the batter’s box and Park felt his heart swell with pride. Now an advisor in the Padres’ baseball operations department, Park had brought to the stadium that day a few friends from Korea. They watched as Kim settled into his stance. They listened as a sellout crowd chanted Kim’s name. They exulted as he raced into second on a double. At Petco Park, it has been this way all summer.
On a star-studded team finishing out a bitterly disappointing season, Kim has been one of the most valuable performers in the majors. According to FanGraphs, he has supplied more wins above replacement than all but 13 players. He has 17 home runs and 31 stolen bases, the most ever by a big leaguer from South Korea, and he is hitting .290 since June 22. That was the day Kim moved into the Padres’ leadoff spot. He has yet to relinquish it.
Oh, and there is his defense. Kim excels at second base but also at third base and shortstop, his natural position. This season, he could become the first Korean-born player to win a Gold Glove Award; he was a National League finalist a year ago. Back home on the other side of the Pacific, every Padres game is carried live on TV, every Kim home run narrated with full-throated gusto, every highlight added to a growing reel of inspiration.
In 2017, on the night he debuted in the Korea Baseball Organization, Jake Brigham watched from the mound as the Nexen Heroes’ shortstop made a diving play in the six-hole. Man, this guy is good, Brigham thought to himself. How old is he?
Brigham guessed that his rangy new teammate was in his mid-20s. Later, in the dugout, he learned Kim was only 21.
“He always carried himself older than he was, which in Asia is a big deal,” said Brigham, a former Atlanta Braves pitcher who played a season in Japan before spending the next five in Korea with the Kiwoom Heroes. “You’re not necessarily allowed to do that in Asia; there’s a respect level there. But he was always such an excellent player and always such a respectful guy that it didn’t matter what age he was.”
In a culture defined by hierarchy, Kim had worked from childhood to earn a place in South Korea’s version of the big leagues. He gravitated toward the sport early, drawn by the idea of wearing a crisp baseball uniform. He quickly proved to have the instincts and athleticism to stand out regardless of his attire. Kim’s mother nurtured a developing passion in her son; she enjoyed watching Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, in part because of the pitcher’s Christian faith. In time, another kind of belief took root in a household in Bucheon, a city on the outskirts of Seoul.
“That dream just naturally came to mind,” Kim said through his interpreter, Leo Bae. “You know, OK, I might set my goal to become a major leaguer one day.”
His vision at first seemed distant. Kim was considered a good but not great prospect coming out of Yatap High School, where he mostly played second base while Hoy Park, another future major leaguer, played shortstop. The Heroes, a resourceful franchise sometimes likened to the Tampa Bay Rays, selected Kim in the third round of the 2014 draft. He spent his first season in the KBO as a teenager backing up star shortstop Jung Ho Kang.
“I think the word that comes to mind when it comes to Ha-Seong Kim throughout his career is ‘surprise.’ He’s surprising,” said Daniel Kim (no relation), a KBO analyst based in Seoul. “He has surprised us in many facets of his career.”
By 2017, Kim was a promising infielder but no surefire superstar, a distinction made more clear with the arrival of a top prospect who would become his best friend. Outfielder Jung-hoo Lee joined the Heroes as the No. 1 draft pick, following in the footsteps of his father, Jong-beom Lee, a former KBO MVP who himself had once been drafted first overall. Kim was two years older and did not have the same pedigree. But he did have a healthy work ethic and plenty of motivation.
“He didn’t have the name coming into it like Jung-hoo did,” Brigham said. “So, not in a bad way, but he wore it like a badge of honor, like a chip on his shoulder. He was like, ‘You’re going to know who I am, this is who I am. And be ready.’ It was really cool to watch him just grow.” From 2018 to 2020, Kim and Lee both won three KBO Golden Glove awards, which are given annually to the league’s best overall player at each position.
Brigham, a sixth-round draft pick by the Texas Rangers in 2006, was happy to share whatever insight he could.
Brigham found that Kim was a bit reserved but always welcoming. Confident but not arrogant. Serious about baseball but unafraid to have fun. When he and Brigham first met, Kim, who wore No. 7, introduced himself as “Lucky.”
And as curious as Kim was about his American teammate’s background, he wanted to know about current matters, too.
Said Brigham: “He would ask me as the years went on, ‘Jake, how do you adjust here?’”
Despite the language and cultural barriers, he clicked with the likes of Manny Machado, Jurickson Profar and Fernando Tatis Jr. His new teammates noted his openness and enthusiasm. His coaches offered similar praise.
“He made it really easy on me,” said Phillies infield coach Bobby Dickerson, who filled the same role for the Padres in 2021. “He was bright-eyed and bushy tailed. He was always listening.”
That growth did not come easy. Not long after his first season in the majors, when he hit .202 and started in just 63 games, Kim discovered evidence of the stress he had been under. Beneath his flowing black hair was a bald spot that had previously gone unnoticed. It was about the size of a quarter.
“There were moments where I was really mentally at the lowest point of my career,” Kim said. “I thought maybe I don’t belong here, so maybe I should go back to Korea.
“But on the other hand,” Kim added, “it was only my first year. So let’s challenge myself and see what happens.”
It proved to be a year of immersive education. For the first time in his baseball career, Kim experienced regular travel across multiple time zones. For the first time since he was a KBO rookie, he spent most games on the bench. He lost noticeable weight as he acclimated to strange new foods and the rigors of a 162-game schedule. He struggled to adjust to major-league velocity. Some scouts wondered if he ever would.
Now, as he settled into the batter’s box against the Cincinnati Reds, portions of the crowd broke into a coordinated chant. HA-SEONG KIM! HA-SEONG KIM! HA-SEONG KIM! A wave of surprise washed over Kim. Then came a sense of renewed purpose.
“Obviously, it was overwhelming because I wasn’t really a good player. I was a bench player and a pinch hitter,” Kim said. “Still, the amount of love that I got, I just was thankful to the fans. And that motivates me to pay back our fans by giving 100 percent, by being a hustle player.”
This year, he has accommodated the signing of Xander Bogaerts by seamlessly shifting to second base. He has evolved into an adept fastball hitter to go along with his typical plate discipline, though even that has taken a step forward. Earlier this summer, Kim reached base at least twice in 15 consecutive games, the longest such streak in the majors since Joey Votto put together a 20-game run in 2017.
Inside the Padres clubhouse, Kim is as popular as ever, in part because he is increasingly trilingual. “I think he’s more Dominican than some of the players in here,” Machado joked. The compliments, though, inevitably turn to Kim’s performance. “The guy has turned this year into one of the best players in the game,” Tatis said. “He plays his heart out and he plays the right way,” Blake Snell said. “All the love he gets, he deserves.”
Meanwhile, in South Korea, a national icon is beaming. “He’s become, like, a super, superstar right now,” Park said by phone during a recent visit to his native country. “There’s a lot of good players in Korea, a lot of young talent,” Kim said. “That’s what motivates me even more to play harder, so that they get more attention from major-league scouts. And then they can start dreaming more about coming over here to play. So that gives me big motivation to play even harder so that you can see a lot of Korean players in the future.”
“It’s just different when you’re playing with a guy that you can connect with and you care about,” Brigham said. “And he always made me feel that. If he made an error or if he felt like he should have made a play that he didn’t, he was in my face, like, ‘Jake, I got you next time. That will not happen again.’ And he just always took responsibility, but he always cared. And that meant a lot to me and my family, and I truly believe that leads to guys having success in other countries, if they can feel that connection.” (Lin - Sep 8, 2023 - The Athletic)
In 2023, Kim became the first Asian-born infielder to win a Gold Glove award.
“The whole Asian baseball community and young kids are watching me and playing that position and thinking about coming over here,” Kim said through interpreter Leo Bae. “Obviously, it’s a great personal achievement, but also I’ll be happier just to show kids in Asia that they can play infield and they can dream about coming over here. Because there’s a lot of doubts, like that Asian infielders have a low success rate in the big leagues. Just being that person to have them keep their dream, that’s the most important thing for me.” Kim is just the second Asian-born player to win a Gold Glove. “I feel like winning a Gold Glove as a utility is probably more valuable,” Kim said in September. “It means you can play multiple positions at the Gold Glove level.”
In an interview near the end of the season, Korean baseball legend Chan Ho Park described Kim as a pioneer for their home country.
“Before I came to America, we had never thought about a Korean pitcher or Korean player playing in the major leagues,” said Park, who in 1994 became the first Korean-born player to appear in the majors. “But we made it. And then we thought, ‘OK, maybe a pitcher, maybe a home run hitter — Hee-Seop Choi, Shin-Soo Choo.’ But defense? Like the infield, shortstop, second base? We never thought about it.
“Ha-Seong makes us start thinking about it: ‘Yes, we can do that, too.’”
“He’s a pleaser, man,” Dickerson, now the Philadelphia Phillies’ infield coach, said in September. “When I say ‘pleaser,’ I mean he does not want to let people down. For you to invest in him as an organization, I’m sure, like he says, he didn’t want to let his country or anyone down. These are things that make guys great.” (Lin - Nov 5, 2023 - The Athletic)
Dec. 28, 2020: The Padres signed Kim to a four-year deal. Kim is set to make $28 million over four years. And San Diego must also pay a release fee of around $5 million to his former club, the Kiwoom Heroes. Kim’s deal includes a mutual option for the 2025 season.
|Bucheon-si, South Korea
|2020 - Free agent - Out of the KBO
|16: Nexen - KBO
Kim rarely faced fastballs above 90 mph in Korea and may struggle initially against MLB pitching, but he has a good swing and the twitch and athleticism to adjust and eventually be an above-average hitter. He has the power to drive balls out to his pull side and projects for around 15 home runs, though he will get pull-happy at times and can struggle with pitches moving away from him.
Ha-Seong has a 55 grade Hit tool, and a 45 grade for his fringe-average arm. (Kyle Glaser - Baseball America Prospect Handbook - Spring, 2021)
April 3, 2021: Ha-Seong made his first start against the D-backs and ripped a pair of hard singles in his first two at-bats — the first two hits of his big league career.
After the first of those two hits, the San Diego dugout went wild. Shortly thereafter, Kim's first-hit ball made its way to Manny Machado on the top step, and Machado executed his favored bait-and-switch trick — tossing a decoy ball into the stands. Kim, locked in at the time, didn't notice. But when Machado told him about the gag afterward, Kim chuckled. "I just love them," Kim said later through a team interpreter. "They're great teammates."
"It felt great," Kim said. "It was my dream stage for me. I got a hit on my dream stage, and the big support from the fans, I really appreciate it. Everyone in this organization has helped me adjust," Kim said. "It helped me a lot. Great teammates, great staff. I was able to get adjusted faster than I expected." (Cassavell - mlb.com - 4/4/2021)
Ha-Seong has more than enough bat speed to catch up to big league velocity, often a hurdle for many Korean position players attempting to stick in the United States.
Aug 11, 2023: Ha-Seong spent his first two Major League seasons trying to establish himself. That has been emphatically accomplished in 2023.
Kim has turned into one of San Diego’s most valuable players. In the Padres’ 10-5 victory over the D-backs at Chase Field, his improvements paid off with an international distinction.
Kim finished 2-for-5 with an RBI and a run, extending his hitting streak to 16 games. Not only is that the longest active hitting streak in the Majors, but it’s tied with Shin-Soo Choo for the longest MLB hitting streak by a player born in South Korea. (Choo’s streak came in 2013 for the Reds.) (J Cano - MLB.com - Aug 12, 2023)
Ha-Sung is a quick-twitch athlete and displays solid shortstop ability. And he won two Gold Gloves in Korea. But he may be even better at second base.
He gets a 60 grade for both his defense and his arm.
Kim will likely face an adjustment period in the U.S., but he has the tools and athleticism to be an impact player over time. He’s an athletic, instinctual defender who plays a solid shortstop and has the versatility to play second or third base. He puts himself in good positions to make throws and has average arm strength, with the ability to reach back for more as needed.
Ha-Sung has the ability to be anything from an everyday infielder to a multi-positional regular. (K. Glaser - BAPH - Spring, 2021)
- 2023 Season: Kim won a Gold Glove as a utility player. He played three infield positions at an elite level for the Padres, making only 7 combined errors at second, third, and shortstop during the regular season.
Kim became the first Asian-born infielder to win a Gold Glove award.
- Ha-Sung is speedy. He has a 55 grade and adds value on the bases as a capable base-stealer with good jumps and instincts.
- In 2023 with the Padres, he stole 38 bases.
June 2, 2021: Padres left fielder Tommy Pham and shortstop Ha-Seong Kim collided in the fourth inning of San Diego's 6-1 loss to the Cubs — a collision that prompted an early exit for both.
With one out and the bases loaded, Chicago catcher P.J. Higgins lofted a ball into shallow left field, where Pham and Kim converged. Both appeared to be calling for the baseball, and neither gave way. They collided head-first. Both went down on the outfield grass clutching their heads and stayed there for several moments as they were assisted by team training staff.
Kim, meanwhile, appears to have avoided a concussion, according to Tingler, though the team will monitor him closely moving forward.