Even former Twins in different leagues are getting in on the home run parade in 2019.
Remember ByungHo Park? The Twins won exclusive negotiating rights to the slugger from Korea before the 2016 season, essentially paying about $25 million for four years between posting fees and a contract to bring him to the majors.
It wasn’t the most expensive gamble in the world, but it didn’t quite pay off. Park hit home runs, but not much else, during the 2016 season. He wound up in Class AAA Rochester for the rest of 2016 and 2017 before the Twins released him so he could return to Korea.
Park, who was the KBO League home run champ every year from 2012-15 before joining the Twins, has resumed his mastery of pitching in that league. He hit 43 homers last year, just one short of the league lead.
And he crushed four home runs in a game earlier this week to take over the league lead in homers with 28. Per this account from Korea JoongAng Daily, which I read regularly (not true — it was sent to me by a colleague), he hit homers in the first, third, fifth and ninth innings, and it was the second time he’s hit four homers in a KBO game. Per the story:
Park’s performance is especially impressive as he didn’t have the best start to the season. During the first three months, Park hit just 13 home runs. Although that is not a bad number, considering his slugging ability, it was a disappointing result. … But Park’s bat exploded this month. He has hit 10 home runs with a 0.288 batting average and 24 RBIs, as of Tuesday’s game.
The Bomba Squad is in full effect in Korea, too.
But as noted, Park previously excelled in Korea so it’s not like this is a huge surprise. And to be fair, Park delivered on his power potential stateside — he just didn’t do much else at the plate.
Twins fans tend to draw unfortunate and uncomfortable comparisons between Park and Tsuyoshi Nishioka, the Japanese infielder who struggled mightily with the Twins, at least in part because both arrived during the two worst Twins seasons in recent memory (the 99-loss 2011 season for Nishioka and the 103-loss “Total System Failure” 2016 season for Park).
Nishioka finished with a .507 OPS in 254 career plate appearances and was below average in the field. He was a disaster — hardly the only one for the 2011 Twins, but a disaster nonetheless.
Park smashed 12 homers in 244 MLB plate appearances — early in 2016 there was even some Rookie of the Year chatter, and Park had a .900-plus OPS into mid-May — and hit 36 homers combined between the Twins and Class AAA Rochester in 750 at bats. But he also struck out 242 times in those 750 at bats. Park didn’t work out as pitchers figured out the holes in his swing, but he had some value.
Maybe it’s just as well that it didn’t work with Park. He was primarily used as a designated hitter in 2016, the first of a four-year contract. If he was still on the roster in 2019 — the last year of his four-year contract — performing at an acceptable but not star level, would the Twins have pursued Nelson Cruz (who has 33 homers in just 354 at bats this year) in the offseason?
When you think about it that way, maybe the KBO’s bomba gain was also the Twins’ gain, and all is right with the home run universe.