The Twins announced today that they’ve optioned first baseman/designated hitter Byung Ho Park to Triple-A Rochester and replaced him on the roster with Miguel Sano, who has been activated from the disabled list. The decision to option Park, in whom Minnesota invested a total of $24.85MM this offseason (between the posting fee and his four-year contract) is the latest in a season-long series of disappointments for the Twins, although it certainly doesn’t indicate that the investment will ultimately prove to be an error.
[Related: Updated Minnesota Twins depth chart]
Park, 29, was the most prolific power hitter in the Korea Baseball Organization over the past two seasons, prompting the Twins to make a surprise bid of $12.85MM to secure negotiation rights with him, which yielded a four-year, $12MM contract plus a fifth-year option. The slugger struggled out of the gates in Minnesota but found his stride after a couple of weeks. As recently as May 15, Park was hitting a robust .257/.342/.581, having clubbed nine homers, five doubles and a triple through his first 120 big league plate appearances. In 124 plate appearances since that time, however, Park is hitting just .127/.210/.245 with three homers and four doubles. More concerning is the fact that he’s struck out at least once in 26 of the 31 games he’s started over that span. On the whole, Park has punched out at an alarming 32.8 percent clip this season.
An adjustment period was always expected for Park, and unlike countrymen Jung Ho Kang and Hyun Soo Kim, he was thrown right into the everyday lineup with his first big league team. It’s impossible to tell whether a more gradual introduction into the lineup would’ve proved beneficial — Kim, after all, has just 141 PAs on the season, making it rather early to deem him a true success — but Park has looked overmatched at the plate recently.
Park has proven his power to be very real; his average of 420 feet per home run (via Statcast data at Baseball Savant) rates 10th in the Majors, and he’s registered a .219 isolated power mark (slugging minus average). However, his difficulties in making contact have offset his power contributions and slightly above-average walk rate (8.6 percent). The hope for the Twins, presumably, is that Park can continue to adjust to increased velocity and improve his contact skills down at Rochester so that he can better utilize that pop over the remaining three (possibly four) years of his contract.
Park is earning $2.75MM this season and has annual salaries of $2.75MM (2017), $3MM (2018) and $3MM (2019) yet to come, plus at least a $500K buyout of a $6.5MM club option for the 2020 season. Given the fairly minimal nature of the Twins’ investment in him, he still has plenty of time to make their commitment look to be a shrewd move overall.
As for Sano, he’ll return to the Twins after missing the month of June with a hamstring injury. The 23-year-old slugger has struggled to some extent in his own right, as he’s yet to live up to the expectations that came with last season’s .269/.385/.530 debut (with 18 homers in just 80 games played). Sano is hitting .235/.341/.458 with 11 homers in 50 games and has had a difficult time with his transition to the outfield, where both UZR and DRS peg the 6’4″, 260-pounder as below average. The bulk of Sano’s experience as a pro has come at third base, but that spot remains occupied by Trevor Plouffe.