The Minnesota Twins have been scouting this slugger for more than a decade, though. They were undeterred by the price or the risk.
"We have a lot of conviction and belief that Byung Ho is going to be able to integrate into our organization and be a very productive player," Twins vice president of player personnel Mike Radcliff said, adding: "I don’t think the transition process will be long and rigorous."
Park summed up his confidence thusly, through an interpreter Wednesday at his introductory news conference: "Baseball is baseball."
The Twins posted the highest bid last month, $12.85 million, to Park’s club in the KBO for the exclusive right to work out what became a $12 million, four-year contract for the 29-year-old.
There’s an inherent gamble in committing that much money to a player who has never appeared in the majors. With Park’s .343 batting average, 35 doubles, 53 home runs and 146 RBI in 140 games this season for the Nexen Heroes, there was plenty of potential to entice the Twins. They have a scout, David Kim, who lives in Seoul where the Heroes are based.
"This guy can swing the bat. He’s strong. He uses all parts of the park. Now he strikes out, but a lot of power hitters strike out," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said, praising Park’s baserunning, throwing and fielding abilities as well.
Park is a natural first baseman, but with Joe Mauer there he will be the Twins’ primary designated hitter, a role he has held only about a dozen times.
"Whatever job that’s given to him, he’s willing to play," said Park’s interpreter, Jae Woong Han. "And he’ll be ready for any position that he’s required to play."
That sounded good to Mauer, who attended the media event after a translated conversation with his new teammate. Park named Mauer as a person he looked forward to meeting in the U.S. when asked what excited him about the life and career transition. The Google Translate smart phone app will be a must, Mauer said, but that doesn’t mean they can’t get along.
"I can tell the guys are going to really like him," Mauer said.
Ryan said arbitration-eligible third baseman Trevor Plouffe, the subject of trade speculation, will stay put. That means American League Rookie of the Year Award finalist Miguel Sano will move to left field, for now.
"We’ll just have to do the best we can to make it work," manager Paul Molitor said. "If it produces offensively, I don’t think we’ll have any trouble making a lineup out every day."
Married with an infant son, Park played nine years in the KBO. When he debuts, he’ll be the 18th player born in Korea to reach the major leagues, a list that includes current standouts, Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang, Texas Rangers outfielder Shin-Soo Choo and Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu.
Kang, who was Park’s teammate with the Heroes, established a template that emboldened the Twins with an .816 on-base-plus-slugging percentage as a rookie for the Pirates this year. He had 15 home runs and 58 RBI while hitting .287 in 421 at-bats before a takeout slide at second base broke his leg, tore up his knee and cut short his season. Kang, coincidentally, homered twice in two games at Target Field in July.
"He got a lot of confidence from what he heard from Kang," Han said.
NOTES: The Twins also claimed catcher John Hicks off waivers Wednesday from Seattle, filling out their 40-man roster. Hicks made his major league debut for the Mariners in August and played in 17 games after batting .280 over five seasons in Seattle’s minor league system.