What are some realistic projections for Byung Ho Park? How much will his stats translate from Korea?
-- Tony C., St. Paul, Minn.
Park hit .343/.436/.714 with 53 homers, 35 doubles and 146 RBIs in 140 games for Nexen last season, but the Korean Baseball Organization is offense-heavy and pitchers don't have the kind of velocity seen in the Majors.
For comparison's sake, Jung Ho Kang hit .356/.459/.739 with 40 homers and 36 doubles in 117 games with Nexen in 2013 before hitting .287/.355/.461 with 15 homers and 24 doubles in 126 games with the Pirates last season. So, there was a drop, but Kang was still good enough to finish third in the balloting for the National League Rookie of the Year Award.
There are a few computer projections already out for Park, including ZiPS, which has Park hitting .266/.333/.463 with 27 homers, 26 doubles and 84 RBIs in 138 games in 2016. The Twins would absolutely take that level of production from Park, and it provides some optimism he'll be a force in the middle of the lineup.
With Park in the fold, what happens to Kennys Vargas? Is he likely to start the year in the Minor Leagues?
-- Brian L., Blaine, Minn.
The Park signing doesn't bode well for Vargas, but he has a Minor League option left, so he's likely to begin the season at Triple-A Rochester. There were rumors early in the offseason he could be sold to a team in Korea or Japan, but it doesn't make sense to give up on him with an option remaining.
Vargas saw his stock drop in 2015 after hitting .240/.277/.349 with five homers and 17 RBIs in 58 games with the Twins after a solid rookie season in '14. But he still had strong numbers in the Minors, hitting .279/.411/.475 with six homers and 22 RBIs in 38 games with Triple-A Rochester.
Vargas still needs to work on his plate discipline and defense at first base, so more seasoning isn't necessarily a bad thing. But he was never a top prospect and is already 25 years old, so this will be a big year for him to prove he's a Major League-caliber player.
What role do the Twins envision for Danny Santana this season?
-- Sam P., Anoka, Minn.
Much like Vargas, Santana couldn't replicate his impressive rookie season from 2014, and now he's looking at more of a backup role in '16. The one thing Santana has to his advantage is his ability to play multiple positions, as he split time between shortstop and center field as a rookie in '14.
He's also been playing a lot of second base in winter ball in the Dominican Republic, and should be able to handle third base and both corner-outfield spots. Santana appears headed for a superutility role, which would give the Twins some flexibility, especially because Santana can be a competent backup center fielder. So while Santana isn't expected to reach his level of production from his rookie year, he can still be a valuable player because of his speed and versatility. But he has to show he can contribute offensively this season.
Do you consider Tyler Duffey a lock for the rotation?
-- Alan B., Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
After the way he pitched as a rookie last season, it would be hard for the Twins to keep Duffey out of the rotation. The right-hander was arguably the club's best starter down the stretch, going 5-1 with a 3.10 ERA in 10 starts. And he wasn't doing it with smoke and mirrors, striking out 53 in 58 innings, as his curveball was an effective out-pitch.
So Duffey has a strong case to be in the rotation along with Ervin Santana, Kyle Gibson and Phil Hughes. It would leave an open spot for others, such as Trevor May, Ricky Nolasco, Tommy Milone and acclaimed prospect Jose Berrios, who ranks No. 2 on the club's Top 30 Prospects. Berrios is likely to start the year in the Minor Leagues, and May is a bullpen candidate so it could come down to Milone and Nolasco for that final spot. But it's still only early January and plenty could change by the time the Twins open the season in early April.