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.
The Twin Cities welcome Derek Falvey, the new chief baseball officer for the Minnesota Twins. Tyler Kepner of the New York Times profiles Falvey’s quick rise from scouting prospects in the Cape Cod League to running Minnesota’s baseball operations at the age of 34. Falvey, a former college pitcher who never hit 90 miles per hour with his fastball, is tasked with turning around a Twins pitching staff that has historically pitched to contact and was second to last in ERA during the 2016 season.
Falvey’s first move to help pitchers Ervin Santana, Phil Hughes, Kyle Gibson and Hector Santiago was to sign pitch-framing catcher Jason Castro to a three-year, $24.5 million dollar deal. Castro would rather you call what he does “receiving,” though, as reported by Parker Hageman of Twins Daily. He told Hageman that pitch-framing isn’t stealing strikes by tricking the plate umpire, but giving the umpire a clear view of the pitch and getting strikes called on pitches that are in the strike zone.
Castro’s former club, the Astros, have been one of the best in baseball at getting strikes called on pitches thrown in the strike zone. Fangraphs’ Travis Sawchik recently ranked the Twins catching corps 22nd in the league for 2017. They were ranked 25th last year with old-schooler Kurt Suzuki behind the plate. According to Baseball Reference, Suzuki was 18 runs below league average defensively over 1,200 innings while Castro was five runs above league average last season. Both players were slightly below average with the bat last year, but Castro has averaged a home run every 33 plate appearances the last four years while Suzuki averaged 80 plate appearances between dingers over the same span.
The Twins are also hoping Kyle Gibson’s mechanics adjustment keeps him healthy and effective this season. Twins beat reporter Rhett Bollinger reports that back issues forced Gibson to make a change in his delivery after posting an ERA of 5.07 last year. Gibson continued to impress in Spring Training by pitching six scoreless innings Sunday against a potent Red Sox lineup to lower his spring ERA to 1.59.
The Twins are also logging its players’ baseball-related activities for the first time in an effort to monitor fatigue and avoid injury, Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press reports. Manager Paul Molitor says the team is “just trying to be a little smarter,” but executive director of the MLB players’ union Tony Clark said collecting such data could be dangerous given its value and how it could be used.
The Twins kick off the season on Monday, April 3rd, at 3 p.m. against the Kansas City Royals at Target Field. They will try to avoid repeating their nine-game losing streak to open last season that resulted in the organization’s worst finish since moving to Minnesota in 1961. As of this writing, Opening Day tickets have not sold out and are available here.