Twins rookie Park knows how to speak language of baseball

Credit: Alex Brandon

Credit: Alex Brandon

With the Twins finishing 83-79 last season, and a number of great young players on the roster, expectations are high for this season. But there are also a lot of questions to be answered as the team enters its second season under manager Paul Molitor.

One of the biggest questions is how Korean slugger Byung Ho Park will adjust to the major leagues.

Park isn't any old rookie, as he won MVP awards in 2012 and 2013 in the KBO League in South Korea, and won the league home run title in each of his final four seasons there. Last season, he hit .303 with 52 home runs and 146 RBIs in 124 games for the Nexen Heroes.

That's what led the Twins to bid $12.85 million just for the right to negotiate with Park. They signed him to a four-year, $12 million contract.

While it's impossible to project how international players will adjust to the majors, the Twins must have felt good after watching Jung Ho Kang, who played for the same team as Park in South Korea.

Kang was a career .298 hitter with 139 home runs and 545 RBIs in nine seasons in South Korea. Then he came to the Pirates last year and hit .287, with 121 hits, 24 doubles, 15 home runs, 58 RBIs and 60 runs scored. The infielder finished third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting despite missing the final weeks of the season because of a broken leg.


Speaking through a translator, Park said that when it comes to hitting, he doesn't expect much of a challenge. But the bigger challenge may be adjusting to playing and living in America.

"I think that baseball is baseball, baseball is the same anywhere I go," he said. "But culturewise, and other factors like the players and the environment, I'll have to adjust."

Does he expect it to be a challenge? "Sure, it's going to be tough, but as time goes by and I go through each game and practice, I'll find out and figure it out," Park said.

Park also said that he thinks the biggest adjustment, baseballwise, will be the American fastball.

"It could be different between the fastball here and over there, but I'll prepare a lot," he said. "I know that the fastball here is different."

It's a brief sample size, but so far this spring Park has shown that he can handle big league pitching. He hit .259 (15-for-58) with a .279 on-base percentage, but he has a .466 slugging percentage and a .744 OPS. Park produced 13 RBIs on 15 hits, including three doubles and three home runs.


When Park was asked if he was surprised to land in Minnesota, he said that he was but only because the bidding process is unknown to the players in Korea until the bid is accepted.

"I heard a few teams were interested in me," he said. "So I was thinking about what team is going to bid on me?"

He said that after he signed his deal, he talked with Kang, who gave him some advice. "I am good friends with Kang with the Pirates and he told me not to change anything until I struggle," Park said. "So I'll listen to him."

While Park is primarily going to be the designated hitter, he did say he is capable of playing first base.

"I have been playing first base my whole life, so I am ready wherever the team asks me to play, I'll be ready," he said. "I'm excited, too."

Asked if he had heard of Twins first baseman Joe Mauer, Park said: "I heard a lot about Joe Mauer and knew Joe Mauer before. I met Joe Mauer before and I think he's a great person. I'm excited to become friends with him."

Of his new home ballpark, Target Field, Park said, "It's beautiful." When asked if the spacious dimensions are an issue, he said they were not.

"Size-wise, there's more stadiums that are similar to this, so I don't worry about the size," he said. "But the one comparison I can make is it is just beautiful out here."