Though news came out awhile ago that ByungHo Park would be returning to South Korea to play baseball in 2018, he actually only arrived back in his home country yesterday. Since it was hist first time back, Park held a press conference about his return with his new/old team, the Nexen Heroes. He didn’t really say that much new about the Twins or his time in the US, but one small comment stuck out to me: apparently, at the end of spring training in 2017, the Twins told Park they wanted him to start the season in the minors, but that they planned to call him up later that April.
Of course, things didn’t happen that way. Park only played four games in the minors before suffering a hamstring injury that kept him out for a month. When Park came back, he said he was thrown off and lost confidence in himself, and performed poorly. He never returned to the majors.
The above comment is interesting because it sheds more light on what the new front office had actually planned for Park. Many were shocked when they DFAed Park at the beginning of spring training, and again when they didn’t include Park on the Opening Day Roster, despite his good showing in spring training and the team’s lack of an obvious DH. Those moves led to rumors and speculation that the new front office, led by Derek Falvey and Thad Levine, was much lower on Park than the previous front office. The old front office had greatly misjudged Park’s abilities, and the new front office had no plans for Park in the Twins’ future, or so the speculation went.
In fact, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine apparently did have a plan for Park. It was a pretty good and prudent plan too, both from the standpoint of Park’s development and the team’s roster management. It seems the idea was to utilize Park’s 40-man roster spot while they eased him back into US baseball, giving him plenty of at-bats in spring training before a rehab-ish type stint in Triple-A to start the season. Then they’d give him a shot back in the majors. That plan seems plenty reasonable.
The problem was, things didn’t go according to plan. Park was injured, so when the Twins needed a DH later in April, they called up Kennys Vargas instead. Of course, it’s always possible the Twins would have called up Vargas in any case, since Vargas was on the 40-man roster and Park was not; however, had Park not been injured and continued to play in Triple-A as he had in spring training, it’s not difficult to believe they’d have found a way to give Park his chance, as they had apparently planned.
It’s a bit of a relief to hear. I found some of the speculation about what the front office thought of Park and how they treated him troublesome from a developmental and personnel relations standpoint. It’s also nice to hear it wasn’t just sheer incompetence by the Terry Ryan regime, either.
Alas, Park just couldn’t catch any luck during his time in the US. He said he had a hard time adapting to minor league life (it is hard), and was happy to be home in Korea. He doesn’t regret his time in the US and hopes to help mentor other KBO players who have dreams of one day coming to MLB.
Best of luck in all your future endeavors, ByungHo!