Unless something changes between now and Monday, Byung Ho Park won’t be in Minnesota when the Twins open at home against the Kansas City Royals. According to reports, the Korean slugger will begin the season with Triple-A Rochester. This comes as a surprise. Park was by far the team’s best hitter in spring training, bashing six home runs and slashing .353/.414/,745.
Numbers of a different order are part of the reason — Park isn’t on Minnesota’s 40-man roster — and Paul Molitor’s club is apparently going to carry 13 pitchers. Even so, the lineup lacks power, and Park is one of the few players capable of providing it.
There is another matter to consider: alienation. Park presumably won’t walk away from his contract — he’s signed through 2019 with a 2020 buyout — but at the same time, he can’t be pleased. The former Nexen Heroes star has been working hard to prove that last year’s disappointing debut was a simple matter of learning curve and bum wrist. When I spoke to him earlier this week in Fort Myers, he sounded like 2016 was in his rearview.
“Last year helped me a lot toward preparing for this year,” Park told me through a translator. “Last season I was a little anxious about some of the players I was facing for the first time. Now I feel more confident to face Major League Baseball. I can be less stressed out, and play a better game.”
Park’s problems with velocity are well-documented — a fact he owns up to — but MLB-quality heat wasn’t the only hurdle he faced in his first season stateside. Much of the stress he experienced came away from Target Field.
“I had to acclimate to so many different things outside of the baseball,” explained Park. “It’s easier to get through all of those things now, so I can purely focus on baseball, and on making myself better.”
Park admitted that doubt began to creep into his mind last year — maybe he wasn’t going to succeed here, as expected — but that is no longer the case. He feels his timing is much improved, and that he’s ready to do damage against American League pitchers.
The opportunity to prove that is temporary on hold. Byung Ho Park will begin the season as a Rochester Red Wing, not a Minnesota Twin.
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.