By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Dec. 18 (Yonhap) -- It is with a sense of wonder and amazement that South Korean pitcher Kim Kwang-hyun is joining the St. Louis Cardinals for the 2020 season.
"In Korea, even people who don't really follow baseball know about the St. Louis Cardinals," Kim said during his introductory press conference at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on Tuesday (local time). "I chose to sign with the Cardinals because this is the most prestigious club in the National League. I like that the city of St. Louis is clean and quiet, and this is a grand stadium."
A former MVP-winning pitcher in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), Kim has reportedly signed a two-year deal worth US$8 million. In 2019, Kim went 17-6 with a 2.51 ERA in 30 starts, covering 190 1/3 innings -- the second-highest total of his 12-season career.
Kim was posted for Major League Baseball (MLB) teams on Dec. 5, and any club interested in the 31-year-old left-hander had until 5 p.m. Eastern Time on Jan. 5 to sign him. The Cardinals, who had been watching Kim closely since the summer, swooped in and made Kim the second South Korean pitcher in team history, after reliever Oh Seung-hwan (2016-2017).
"I've spoken to Seung-hwan about the Cardinals and he told me this was the best major league team he's played for," Kim said of the right-handed reliever, who also pitched for the Toronto Blue Jays and the Colorado Rockies.
Kim said he nurtured his dreams of pitching in the majors by watching the likes of Park Chan-ho, the first Korean pitcher in MLB history, and Ryu Hyun-jin, the 2019 National League Cy Young Award runner-up and a former KBO All-Star, like Kim.
"It's an honor to be standing on the same big league mound as those pitchers," Kim said. "It means a lot to me just to have this opportunity. I think I should be able to follow in their footsteps."
The Cardinals had a glaring need for a left-hander in their rotation, and Kim, who has mostly been a starter in the KBO save for occasional relief appearances, appears to fit the bill.
Asked if he'd prefer to start or pitch out of the bullpen, Kim said he's ready to take on any role that the Cardinals see fit.
"The best case scenario for me would be to be a starting pitcher," Kim said. "But first and foremost, I'll try to be a player that the team needs. Whatever the team wants me to do, I'll do the best I can."
Kim averaged 91.4 miles per hour with his fastball in 2019, two full miles below MLB average, but his bread-and-butter pitch will be his slider.
"I've been throwing the slider all my life, and I can use it to get ahead in the count or strike out batters," he said. "I can change speeds with my slider. I am confident with that pitch."