The Tampa Bay Rays will head into 2015 with some questions in their starting rotation. The top four of the rotation seems to be locked down by Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, and Drew Smyly, but after that the picture is less clear. Matt Moore needs to be healthy to get a spot, and even when he returns there are questions about his control and velocity. Jeremy Hellickson has been hit hard the past two years, Alex Colome cannot stay healthy enough to be a starter for a full season, Matt Andriese has limited upside, and Nate Karns and Enny Romero need more development. Could the Rays at the very least try to add more depth by signing Korean lefty Kwang-Hyun Kim?
Kim, 26, has pitched for the SK Wyverns of the Korean Baseball Organization for the past eight seasons. However, a report from Yonhap News agency says that the Wyverns will post Kim this offseason. This means that big league teams will be able to submit bids for Kim’s services, and the highest bidder will get a 30-day window negotiate a contract with Kim.
Kim started his career with the Wyverns strong, posting a 3.62 ERA in his rookie season and following it up with a sub-3.00 ERA in each of the next three seasons. Partly due to injury problems, Kim then regressed from 2011-2013, posting an ERA of 4.30 or above each season and also having a BB/9 of 4.0 or above in each season. Kim finally rebounded in 2014, posting a 3.39 ERA, 4.1 BB/9, and 7.5 K/9 in 156.2 innings.
Scouting report-wise, Kim stands out for his stuff. He has a solid fastball that generally sits in the upper-80’s to lower-90’s, but he can dial it up into the mid-90’s when needed, and it features solid late life and a nice downward angle. He has an electric slider that is his best pitch and flashes above-average. Kim rounds out his arsenal with an average curveball and changeup. His overall arsenal is solid, and he absolutely has the pure stuff to be a big league starter.
There are of a couple of question marks with Kim, however. He has a high-effort delivery, and because of that his control is affected, and that has led to a career 4.1 BB/9 in Korea. His pitches can also flatten out at times because of it, and that leads to inconsistency. Plus, Kim has experienced injury issues in the past (also stemming from his delivery), and he has only topped the 150 inning mark once in the last four seasons.
When you put the evidence together you can see Kim being a big league starter, but he would need some minor league development to improve his command before he got there. Without that improvement, Kim could still be an effective reliever. Because of his downsides, Kim will not draw a huge contract this offseason. It seems his ceiling is that of Suk-min Yoon‘s three-year, $5,575,000 contract with the Orioles last season would be Kim’s ceiling, but it is likely his contract would fall short of that.
Kim would not give the Rays the sure thing that they need, but he can provide starting depth now. That is certainly something that the Rays will emphasize this offseason, and Kim gives a bit more intrigue and upside than your average minor league depth signing. Teams will likely be scared off by his age, but if the Rays are willing to accept a year or two of development, Kim could become a quality big league starter, or at least an effective reliever.
All-in-all, the Rays have a rare chance to get involved in the international market with Kim. The Rays are great at developing pitchers, and with their help, Kim could become a big league starter. If the price is right, the Rays should strongly explore signing Kim this offseason.