Kirby Puckett

Kirby Puckett

Monday, November 16, 2015

Signing an Asian Prospect, Attempt Number Two

     As you've likely heard by now, the Twins have won the rights to negotiate with Korean star Byung-ho Park with a bid of $12.85 million. This is the second time, the Twins have won the rights to an Asian player, the first being the infamous Tsuyoshi Nishioka. The Twins signed the highly touted Japanese middle infielder on December 16, 2010 and released him on September 28, 2012. Between those dates he hit .215/.267/.236. He also had a WAR of -2.4. In other words, you and I contributed more to the Twins than he did in that span. Go ahead and give yourself a pat on the back.
     I spent the day researching Park and found out several things. 1. He flips his bat after almost every homer. This will irritate the crap out of Brian McCann when Park comes to the big leagues. Needless to say, this is a good thing.* 2. It is incredibly fun to watch someone hit homers and throw his bat as far as he can all while a very excited man screams in Korean in the background. 3. As for how he actually plays, it's hard to tell from just highlights, but there were several times he demonstrated the ability to hit the ball hard the other way. He can also field pretty well for someone his size (6'1", 236) so I wouldn't be surprised if Mauer played more DH this year.
*After I wrote that it came out that Park won't be flipping his bat in the majors. Disappointing.
     A few days after getting the rights to Park the Twins traded Hicks to the Yankees. It was a fine deal for both teams, the Twins ended up with catcher John Ryan Murphy. Murphy should help the Twins' abysmal catching situation, with Kurt Suzuki batting .240/.296/314 last year. Murphy, a former second round draft pick, batted .277 last year in 67 games in 2015. Those two will likely begin the season platooning behind the plate but I could the job gradually becoming more and more Murphy's as the season progresses.
     While I like that Terry Ryan's addressing the catching problem, I'm going to miss Hicks. All of last year I wanted to see the outfield combination of Rosario-Buxton-Hicks. All three of them can fly and have powerful arms. Now it's looking like Sano will be put in one of the corner outfield spots with Rosario filling the other and Buxton in center. That's not an awful idea, Sano's young and athletic enough that I think he can handle the outfield, I just have two major problems with it.
     The first is how much the outfield defense will suffer replacing Hicks with Sano. I mentioned above how much ground the Rosario-Buxton-Hicks trio could cover, and the Royals have taught us how underrated it is having three good fielders in the grass. More importantly, Hanley Ramirez and the Red Sox have taught us how miserable it can be having an inept corner outfielder. While Sano will almost certainly be better than Hanley, we won't know for sure if he can make the adjustment until the season starts.
    My second issue is that who they traded. After the Twins acquired the rights to Park, it became clear Hicks, Plouffe, or Rosario would have to go. I love Trevor Plouffe, he's a fine player and has turned himself into a reliable hitter and decent fielder in the last few years, but this is the best we're going to see from Plouffe. He's been in the league for five years and he 29 years old. The Twins had a nice surprise year last season but they're still a few years from contending. And Plouffe will never be anything but solid, hitting around .240 with homerun numbers in the low 20s and a lot of doubles.
     Meanwhile Hicks is only 25 years old and had a breakout season last year, hitting .256/.323/.398 and a red-hot stretch in July when he hit .346/.424/.577. More importantly, Hicks has two elite skills that Plouffe lacks. One is fielding. Plouffe has improved at third base throughout his career but he'll never be Manny Machado there. Hicks on the other had has always been a terrific fielder, posting a UZR of 2.4 last year. The other skill Hicks has is speed, last year he was 13-16 on stolen bases. Plouffe has less than 13 stolen bases in his career.
     The Twins made one good move, which lead to an extremely questionable one. We'll see how this plays out.

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