Despite being the Minnesota Twins best hitter, and one of the best in all of baseball during Spring Training, ByungHo Park will not be on the field with the Twins at Target Field on Opening Day. Park, who hit .353 with six home runs and 13 RBI in Spring Training, was optioned to AAA Rochester.
Park didn’t do himself any favors in his first season in America. After dominating the hitter-friendly Korean Baseball Organization, Park hit just .191 with 12 home runs and struck out 80 times in 244 plate appearances (a .275 on-base percentage) last season. But Park sustained a wrist injury on May 13, 2016, that clearly affected him at the plate. He was hitting .245/.324/.582 before the injury and over the next 33 games posted a slash line of .145/.233/.265.
In the offseason Park was placed on waivers by the Twins, which allowed the team to put reliever Matt Belisle on the 40-man roster. Belisle had an uncharacteristically good 2016. His career WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) is 1.357, and it was 1.087 last year. The last and only time his WHIP was that low was seven years ago. Belisle’s 2016 FIP (fielding independent pitching) was nearly a run lower than his career FIP.
So now that Park is not on the 40-man roster, the Twins had a convenient way of demoting him despite winning the designated hitter gig over the injured Kennys Vargas. Switch-hitting outfielder Robbie Grossman will be the Opening Day DH because Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey basically said the team can’t trust its pitching staff. Rookie Adalberto Mejia is the Twins fifth starter, and both Phil Hughes and Hector Santiago might not be ready for long starts, as Santiago’s spring program was affected by competing in the World Baseball Classic. Hughes is recovering from thoracic outlet surgery.
Twins manager Paul Molitor said Park did everything he was expected during the spring, and even gave him a few extra words of encouragement on his way out the door. Imagine your boss is looking to promote either you or a fellow employee, and while you outperform your fellow employee in a different area of expertise, your boss awards the promotion to your fellow employee -- patting you on the back and saying, “You exceeded our expectations, but we’re going in a different direction because the rest of our staff sucks.”
Granted, Park’s stay at AAA shouldn’t be a long one, but he’ll have to be added to the 40-man roster, which means someone will have to be removed from the 40-man roster. Given Buddy Boshers terrible spring and age (29 in May), he could be a waiver candidate that allows Park onto the 40-man roster.