Expected to provide offensive pop as designated hitter
By Dan Myers
Special to MLB.com |
MINNEAPOLIS -- After a decade of scouting and chatter, the Twins finally have their man.
Slugging Korean first baseman Byung Ho Park was officially introduced on Wednesday as a Twin at snowy Target Field, where in just over four months, he will look to follow in the footsteps of good friend and fellow Korean Jung Ho Kang of the Pirates.
The Twins, who won the exclusive negotiating rights to Park with a $12.85 million bid during the posting process that concluded Nov. 6, signed Park to a four-year contract worth $12 million, with a club option for 2020. That commitment includes a $2.75 million salary in 2016 and '17, followed by $3 million in '18 and '19. The Twins hold a $6.5 million option for '20 with a $500,000 buyout.
But Minnesota's interest in Park has lasted a lot longer than just the last few weeks.
"We have a very good history of visual observation on him over his professional career, especially over the last five years," said Mike Radcliff, Twins vice president of player personnel. "Because of our situation of having a scout over there, we have a lot of conviction that Byung Ho is going to be able to integrate into our organization and be a very productive player."
Radcliff credited scout David Kim, who has been a fan of Park's for more than 10 years. Kim, who lives in Seoul, South Korea, has been able to watch Park up close for the last several seasons with the Nexen Heroes.
"He started watching, monitoring and liking Byung Ho when he was in high school," Radcliff said. "Myself, [Twins international scouting coordinator] Howard Norsetter and many others have been watching Byung Ho for over a decade. We've had a lot of contacts, observations and visuals for a long time."
With Park, there is plenty to like. He hit .343 this season while leading the Korean Baseball Organization with 53 home runs and 146 RBIs. Over the last four seasons, Park has hit for a .314 batting average, 173 homers and driven in 492 runs while also stealing 48 bases.
"This guy can swing the bat. He's strong, uses all parts of the park," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said. "He strikes out, but a lot of power hitters strike out. He does walk. He's 29, it's not like he's 19 here. We scouted, evaluated, we know the makeup, we know the history. He's healthy. This is a good thing now, and he's going to help provide some of the offense maybe we lost with Torii Hunter."
Park's also won three Gold Gloves for his work at first base, although he is expected to slot in as the Twins' Opening Day designated hitter with Joe Mauer holding down the job at first.
"They're different hitters, but it is a bit of a relief to see what Kang did for the Pirates," Ryan said. "There are players that have come over here and succeeded, and we're hoping that Park is one of them."
Park said he is excited to begin the process of chasing his dream of playing Major League Baseball and has been in touch with Kang about what to expect. Park understands there may be a difficult transition to the Majors, especially early in the season. There are also things to worry about off the field, including getting his wife and 16-month-old son settled.
"Baseball is baseball. But I know a lot of good players play in the Major Leagues, so I'm going to try my best to adjust to Major League Baseball," Park said through interpreter Jae Woong Ha. "I'm going to try to adjust well, as soon as possible."
With Park in the mix, the focus will shift to how manager Paul Molitor will work the two-time KBO MVP into his lineup. For starters, Ryan made clear Wednesday that he does not intend to trade third baseman Trevor Plouffe.
With Park taking over everyday DH duties, Ryan said Wednesday that the club will look to move Miguel Sano to a corner-outfield position.
"The submission to the Commissioner about trying to get two DHs hasn't worked," Molitor quipped. "We all know that there are some things that we are, at least in theory, going to attempt, without really knowing what the results will be. We'll try to piece it together. We do have some repetitive parts in terms of DH, first-base-type players. We'll just have to do the best we can to make it work."
Despite the uncertainty in the field, Molitor said he's excited about how things could shake out offensively. The Twins finished 10th in the American League in home runs and eighth in runs scored but near the bottom in both slugging percentage and OPS.
"I haven't, with any serious intention, looked at any lineups, I've kind of done it more playfully to see how it might play out," Molitor said. "But if he makes the adjustment and proves to be a guy that produces runs, [you can see] how you can balance it out right and left and push it down a little bit where you've got a little bit more threat, especially when you're talking about [Nos.] 2-7."
Fantasy spin | Fred Zinkie (@FredZinkieMLB)
After Kang made a successful transition from the Korea Baseball Organization last season, Park is sure to generate plenty of fantasy buzz in 2016. The slugger hit .343 with 53 homers and 146 RBIs in 140 games in '15, and he could make an immediate impact in mixed leagues even with a notable regression from his overseas production. Park should not be viewed as a top-12 first baseman for '16 mixed-league drafts, but he is a fine selection in the late rounds.
Park should serve as the Twins' designated hitter, as first base is spoken for by Mauer. The 29-year-old's presence at DH will likely require Sano to move to the outfield. As long as Sano shows respectable glove work early in the season, the Twins will not have an issue. But if Sano cannot handle the transition, Minnesota will need to shake up its roster in order to get the best players into the lineup.
Dan Myers is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.