KBO’s Hanwha Eagles Release Nick Kingham

The Hanwha Eagles of the Korea Baseball Organization announced Thursday that they’ve placed former Pirates and Blue Jays righty Nick Kingham on release waivers. He’ll become a free agent upon clearing, while the Eagles (who just signed Yefry Ramirez) will be in the market for another pitcher. KBO clubs can roster up to three foreign players by rule (with a maximum of two pitchers).

Kingham’s release certainly wasn’t due to performance — he’s been excellent for the Eagles dating back to last season — but rather due to an arm issue that has plagued him throughout the season, as first reported by Jee-ho Yoo of the Yonhap News Agency. Kingham was shelved after just three appearances this year due to the injury, and Yoo writes that it flared back up in a recent bullpen session as he tried to work his way back. The team originally called the issue an upper arm strain, per Yoo, but I’m told that Kingham is dealing with bone spurs in his pitching elbow and will need surgery to remove them. That will sideline him for the foreseeable future but should have him ready to pitch for the 2023 season.

Given his former prospect pedigree and pre-injury success in the KBO, Kingham’s release is somewhat more interesting than the standard KBO release. Although he’s clearly not at full strength at the moment, he’s a former top-100 prospect who was pitching at a high level overseas prior to the injury. In 160 1/3 innings with the Eagles, Kingham posted a 3.13 ERA with a 22.5% strikeout rate, a 7.0% walk rate and a huge 62.6% ground-ball rate.

Obviously a release from the KBO, whether due to injury or performance, isn’t a typical path back onto the big league radar. Any Major League interest in Kingham will depend on both his recovery and the extent to which teams bought into the 6’5″ righty’s success. There’s been some clear, tangible change in his skill set at the very least, as Kingham never posted a ground-ball rate of even 50% in any full season (Major or Minors) but was at 60.5% in 2021 and 79.5% in his 16 1/3 innings this year. He’s reworked and ramped up the usage of both his changeup and curveball since signing overseas, which has contributed to the shift in his batted-ball profile.

Whether that leads to interest from big league teams —  be it on a small Major League deal or a likelier non-guaranteed deal and Spring Training invite — remains to be seen. Barring that, Kingham ought to have renewed interest from clubs in both the KBO and Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball. He’ll pitch all of next season at age 31, so even if he ends up heading back to South Korea or jumping over to Japan, there’s still ample time for Kingham to put himself back in contention for a spot on a big league roster if he can continue to build on the strides he’s already made with the Eagles.

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