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With MLB opportunity on horizon, star shortstop keeping focus on current KBO team

Sports 14:00 January 31, 2020

By Yoo Jee-ho

INCHEON, Jan. 31 (Yonhap) -- As difficult as it may be, Kim Ha-seong, the top-hitting shortstop in South Korean baseball, is trying to stay in the moment and keep his focus on the immediate task: helping his current Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) club, Kiwoom Heroes, win an elusive championship, while putting thoughts of playing in Major League Baseball (MLB) next year on the back burner.

Kim left for Chinese Taipei on Friday to begin spring training. It will be his seventh camp with the Heroes and could be his last.

Kim Ha-seong of the Kiwoom Heroes in the Korea Baseball Organization speaks to reporters at Incheon International Airport, just west of Seoul, on Jan. 31, 2020. (Yonhap)

The Heroes announced last November that they'll make Kim available for MLB clubs via the posting system following the 2020 season.

KBO players become eligible for posting after completing their seventh full season, and still need approval from their current teams to be posted. In an unusual step, the Heroes gave their blessing a full year before Kim could become eligible.

Before boarding his flight, Kim said a potential jump to the big leagues is the furthest thing from his mind.

"Winning a championship with this team is the most important thing right now," Kim told reporters at Incheon International Airport. "I am not thinking about whether this will be my last spring training with this team or not."

A consistent power threat with speed on base paths and solid glove, Kim has been drawing interest from major league scouts here over recent years. In 2019, Kim batted a career-high .307. He had 104 RBIs to rank second in the league and scored a KBO-best 112 runs. He also set career highs with 33 steals and 38 doubles, while falling one homer shy of his second 20-20 season.

Kim made his KBO debut in 2014 as a 19-year-old and played in 60 games. In five full seasons since then, Kim has averaged about 20 home runs, 92 RBIs, 21 steals and 96 runs scored.

"I haven't really changed my preparations. My goal is always to be better than the previous season," Kim said. "I'll continue to steal as much as I can and try to improve my offensive numbers across the board."

Kim said it's not a given he will be posted at the end of the 2020 season, because he doesn't want to leave the Heroes with any regrets.

In this file photo from Nov. 17, 2019, Kim Ha-seong of South Korea celebrates his two-run home run against Japan in the top of the first inning in the final of the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) Premier12 at Tokyo Dome in Tokyo on Nov. 17, 2019. (Yonhap)

"I don't want to have a mediocre season and then go play in the majors next year," Kim said. "I'll have to be satisfied with my own performance before I can make that leap."

Asked what sort of numbers he'll have to put up to be satisfied, Kim said, "Those are my personal goals and I'd like to keep it that way."

If Kim needs advice before heading to the majors, he won't have to look too far. His teammate at first base, Park Byung-ho, spent the 2015 and 2016 seasons with the Minnesota Twins organization, with his time split between the bigs and Triple-A. But Kim said he hasn't actively sought tips from Park because he's only concerned about taking the Heroes to the promised land in 2020.

Last year, the Heroes reached the Korean Series for the second time in franchise history but were swept by the Doosan Bears in four games. Kim said, as disappointing as the defeat was, it will end up helping the Heroes in the long run.

"I think we'll be able to take another step forward this year," he said. "I think the experience of coming up short last year should only help us. Things will be different this season."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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