What to make of Kim's spring struggles

Paddack looks good in sim game; injury updates for Pomeranz, Nola

March 24th, 2021

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Padres rookie infielder isn't the first hitter to struggle in the strange, small-sample world of the Cactus League.

But Kim -- unlike some of those other slow starters -- doesn't have the luxury of a career's worth of big league success to fall back on.

Perhaps that fact has made Kim's poor showing at the plate this spring a bit more pronounced. But the Padres are staunch in their belief that Kim's success in Korea will translate -- and quickly.

"We have zero panic, just because of the way he's going about his business, the way he sees the ball, the balance," said Padres manager Jayce Tingler said on Tuesday morning. "There's some adjustments to be made, and he's working on those things."

Kim then proceeded to post arguably his best day of the spring, reinforcing his manager’s confidence. He entered play Tuesday with just three hits in 29 at-bats. But Kim doubled against Chris Paddack in a simulated back-field game in the morning, then rapped a sharp single to left against Reds lefty Cionel Pérez in the Padres' 5-4 win that afternoon.

“He had a great day,” Tingler said. “On the back fields he had good at-bats, barreled a couple up. Then, it was really nice -- probably more important for him to breathe a little bit -- to get that clean hit there.”

Kim has an extensive track record of success in Korea, where he batted .306 with a .921 OPS last season, with 30 home runs for the Kiwoom Heroes. He signed a four-year contract worth $28 million during the offseason. The Padres always anticipated an acclimation period for Kim, considering the jump in the quality of opposition.

"It's a complete different unit of pitchers you're having to see -- it's a little bit more velocity, a little bit more movement," Tingler said. "There's a history of players coming over, and it takes a little bit of time. ... Honestly, we've been pretty happy with where Kim's at. He's played great defense. He's working his tail off. There's going to be an adjustment period at the plate."

That adjustment period, sources said, won't impact Kim's status for the Opening Day roster, even though his contract includes Minor League options. Barring something unforeseen, Kim remains a near lock to make the team. He can play all four infield spots, and the Padres plan to give him a few reps in left field over the next week. They want that kind of versatility on their roster.

If center fielder Trent Grisham returns from his hamstring strain in time to make the Opening Day roster, that could leave Brian O'Grady and Jorge Mateo -- two spring standouts -- vying for only one roster spot.

Kim's early struggles don't seem likely to change that roster math. The Padres are fervent in their belief that Kim will hit -- and hit soon.

Tingler recalled Angels two-way standout Shohei Ohtani’s early showing after his arrival from Japan when discussing Kim. Ohtani, too, struggled in the Cactus League in 2018 and drew plenty of headlines for it. Then, the season rolled around, and he raked from the outset.

The Padres don’t expect that kind of instant impact from Kim. But clearly, they don’t seem too concerned with his Cactus League performance at the plate. What makes them so confident, considering the early returns?

"He sees the ball really well," Tingler said. "He's got great hand-eye coordination, and I think he's fairly balanced. ... I've seen him hit velocity. I've seen him hit plus secondary stuff, and he's got a history of doing that as well. That's why we've got a lot of confidence.”

Paddack sharp in sim game
Following Paddack’s early exit against the Cubs last week, the Padres wanted to ensure that he built up to five innings by giving him a controlled setting in which to do so. Hard to envision those five innings going any more smoothly for Paddack.

On a Peoria Sports Complex back field on Tuesday, Paddack struck out six and allowed just three hits. He walked one and grazed Jurickson Profar's sleeve with a fastball. But -- based on the adjudications of pitching coach Larry Rothschild -- Paddack didn't allow a run.

He faced a five-man rotation of hitters -- Kim, Grisham, Mateo, Profar and Nick Tanielu. As usual, Paddack induced a slew of swings and misses with his changeup, and he even mixed in a few solid curves. He worked quickly through every inning but the fourth -- in which he loaded the bases but got Tanielu to fly to right.

Worth noting
• Left-hander Drew Pomeranz will throw another bullpen session on Wednesday, as he works his way back from the left forearm tightness that has kept him out of action for two weeks. Tingler refused to put a timetable on Pomeranz's return. But if all goes well on Wednesday, Pomeranz could pitch Friday night against the Mariners.

• Austin Nola caught Pomeranz's bullpen session on Monday, a noteworthy step as the catcher recovers from his fractured left middle finger. Nola's status for Opening Day remains a question mark, but he's reported no ill-effects from receiving or defending -- though he's yet to resume hitting.

• The fact that Grisham took part in Paddack's sim game is notable. The Padres' center fielder hasn't played in a Cactus League game since March 11, when he strained his hamstring running to first base. Grisham still isn't running at 100 percent, but he's still getting live at-bats, which bodes well for a potential return before Opening Day.