The Minnesota Twins designated 1B/DH Byung-ho Park for assignment, removing him from their 40-man roster and effectively ending his time with the team after just one season. Park, who previously played in South Korea’s KBO league, signed a four-year, $12 million contract with the Twins after they won his rights with a $13 million posting fee.
In his 11 seasons in the KBO, Park hit .281/.387/.564 with 210 home runs, culminating in seasons with 52 and 53 homers in 2014 and 2015, respectively. However, even against the weaker competition in Korea, Park struck out in nearly 25 percent of his plate appearances. This profile of “prodigious power, but massive contact issues” was the core of his scouting report as he came to the States and the major leagues.
Park opened the 2016 season as the Twins’ starting designated hitter, and he put his power on display immediately, with six home runs in 19 April games. However, he also hit just .227 with a .288 on-base percentage. His 30.1 percent strikeout rate was a major contributor to his struggles, but he also posted a BABIP of just .231, suggesting that he may have been a bit unlucky. All told, he ended April with a power-boosted 119 wRC+, a strong first month.
Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there. His strikeout rate increased to over 33 percent, his BABIP never touched .300, and he hit just 6 more home runs after April. At the end of June, the Twins demoted park to Triple-A, where he remained for the rest of the season. All told, he hit just .191 with 12 home runs, leading to a very poor 80 wRC+.
Considering all of the above, it might seem strange for a team like the Rockies (who aren’t exactly in the market for reclamation projects) to pursue Park. However, as both Travis Sawchik and Dave Cameron of FanGraphs argued, there are reasons to be relatively optimistic about Park going forward.
First, Park ranked second in the major leagues in “barrel rate,” the percentage of batted balls hit on the barrel of the bat. Typically, this type of solid contact leads to success on balls-in-play, but Park had a full-season BABIP of just .230. While Park might be the exception to the trend, it’s also possible that he was simply extremely unlucky, given the type of contact he made. Furthermore, Park was 10th in baseball for exit velocity on line drives and flyballs, hitting them at an average of 97.2 mp, just 2 mph slower than league-leader Nelson Cruz, he of the three consecutive 40-plus home run seasons.
What makes Park uniquely valuable is his dirt-cheap contract, just $9 million remaining over 3 years, with a 2020 team option for $6.5 million. Even if Park is truly a replacement-level player, the low dollar commitment makes him a low-risk asset.
The Rockies currently stand in need of a power hitter off the bench, particularly a right-hander. The current bench options are all defensive specialists, which could make it tough for manager Bud Black to have a reliable pinch hitter for key situations. While Ian Desmond can slide to nearly any position on the diamond, in case of injury, the Rockies lack another legitimate option at first base. Park is a plausible fit for both roles on the current roster.
Looking long-term, the Rockies lack a sure-fire option at first base. With Ian Desmond presumably moving elsewhere on the field after 2016 (perhaps due to Carlos González leaving in free agency), first base will once again be the position of greatest need. Prospect Ryan McMahon is the internal candidate with the best shot for the job, but it would be unwise to anoint him to the position quite yet. Park could represent another shot at getting the position locked-down long term.
The Rockies would be wise to explore their options regarding Park. For the right price, he could be a very wise low-risk, high-reward player who fills several needs that the Rockies have, both in the present and in the future.