Transition begins for new Twins slugger Park
Club hopes to get 2-time Korean MVP off to quick start
MINNEAPOLIS -- Byung Ho Park's arrival at Target Field was met with the first snowstorm of the season. An evening meal after signing his four-year, $12 million contract with the Twins was local fare, not one of the Korean first baseman/designated hitter's usual delicacies.
The adjustment for Park to the United States has begun. Weather and food are the least of the concerns as he makes his way to Major League Baseball after a standout nine-year run in the Korean Baseball Organization.
"I ate with Byung Ho last night and he didn't have any trouble eating American food, I can tell you that," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said Wednesday following Park's introductory news conference.
Park, 29, finished his first American news conference by saying -- in English -- that he wants to win a championship. The Twins signed the two-time KBO MVP with the hopes he can help their push after a surprising strong first season under new manager Paul Molitor in 2015.
The Twins have watched Park for a decade in Korea, ever since he played in high school. They believe he has the skills to make the transition.
"It allows us to have some knowledge and conviction in who he is and how he's going to be able to approach this," Twins vice president of player personnel Mike Radcliff said. "You have to have conviction and belief that he has the requisite traits, physically and mentally, to do this. Having that length of a relationship does give us that, some conviction that we know what we're doing here and we know what we've got."
Both sides understand patience is needed. Park's countryman and former teammate, Jung Ho Kang, made a successful move this past season with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Kang hit .287 with 15 home runs and 58 RBIs in 2015, finishing third in the National League Rookie of the Year Award balloting.
The Twins, with interest in Park, watched Kang's transition closely. Minnesota officials spoke with members of the Pirates about how Pittsburgh helped Kang make the transition. Agent Alan Nero represents both players, as well.
"In our opinion, this guy's swing and approach are more traditional, more translatable, if that's a word, to the type of pitching he'll face now, than Kang," Radcliff said. "There will be a transition period. I don't know if that's a warning. It's just a fact. I don't think it's going to be rigorous or daunting or anything that he won't be able to handle in a short amount of time."
Park has spoken with Kang about the differences. Park hit .343 with 53 home runs and 146 RBIs in 140 games for the Nexen Heroes last season. He hit 105 home runs over the past two seasons. The biggest on-field adjustment will be the pitching.
"Kang told me that there's a huge difference in the pitchers, a lot of different types of breaking balls and different fastballs," Park said through an interpreter. "So Kang advised me that I might struggle at first, but as the season goes, I'll find it and I'll play well."
The Twins have already supplied Park with video of Major League pitchers, particularly those within the AL Central. Minnesota also believes Park will report to Spring Training early.
"We'll be patient with him," Molitor said. "Whether that means he's going to come out of the gate playing four, five days a week or every day, or however people are doing, that's kind of all speculative. I'm hoping his transition is smooth, that we can get him out there as much as we can."
Park isn't Minnesota's first attempt at bringing in help from overseas. They're big-money signing of Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka did not work out as hoped, and the team learned from the experience.
"We understand that one didn't go well," Ryan said. "We're not running scared, but that was just one of those that didn't go well from either side. We're going to do everything in our power to make sure this transition works. The Nishioka thing, we learned and we'll see if we can move forward."
Minnesota is moving forward with the expectation Park will be a major contributor in 2016. He's slated to be the designated hitter and will occasionally see time at first base to spell Joe Mauer. The Twins have already said that promising young slugger Miguel Sano, who was mostly the designated hitter in 2015, will move to the outfield.
The two sides have already started to hasten the transition, which will take time.
"I think the most important thing is getting him down to Ft. Myers [, Fla.]; start the process, swinging the bat, taking ground balls," Ryan said. "I don't think it will take him too long. The language, food, transportation, his wife being comfortable, his son being comfortable, all that stuff is important to the well-being of this guy playing the game. We understand that and so do they."