Five big questions heading into Twins spring training
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Byung Ho Park has been drawing considerable interest as he goes through his pre-camp routine each morning at the CenturyLink Sports Complex.
FORT MYERS, Fla. - Byung Ho Park has been drawing considerable interest as he goes through his pre-camp routine each morning at the CenturyLink Sports Complex.
Curious fans line up around Tom Kelly Field to watch him take grounders at first. They push closer to the indoor batting cages to get a look at Park hitting off a tee.
When it’s time to sign autographs and take selfies, Park patiently complies with a daily crush of items thrust in his direction.
How will the South Korean slugger fare in his maiden voyage in the major leagues? That’s just one of a handful of key questions that will shape this Twins spring training as they try to improve on an 83-win season in 2015:
In an offseason that saw situational left-handers cash in on the free-agent market, the Twins took a pass on the likes of Tony Sipp, who re-signed with the Houston Astros for three years and $19.5 million.
Instead, general manager Terry Ryan chose to let Brian Duensing (Kansas City Royals) leave after 11 years in the organization while signing a handful of lefty relievers to minor-league deals. That list included Fernando Abad, coming off a down year with the Oakland A’s, along with
Buddy Boshers, Dan Runzler and Aaron Thompson.
Durable starter Taylor Rogers, who threatened the 200-inning mark last year at Triple-A Rochester and the Arizona Fall League, will be given a chance to make a successful conversion to the bullpen. Rogers, a former 11th-round pick, has dominated lefties in the Twins system.
There’s also holdover Ryan O’Rourke, waiver claim Mike Strong (Stillwater High School) and swingman Logan Darnell. Veteran reliever Neal Cotts, who gave the Twins bullpen a boost down the stretch last season, also remains unsigned.
At 29, Park was ready for a new challenge after bashing a combined 105 homers the past two seasons in the Korea Baseball Organization.
The question now is how long it will take him to make a full adjustment to big-league pitching. It’s not just increased velocity that he’ll have to deal with, but the ability of modern pitchers to throw any pitch in any count.
Fortunately, after signing a four-year, $12 million deal with the Twins, Park has former Nexen Heroes teammate Jung Ho Kang as a reference point. The Pittsburgh Pirates were extremely pleased with what Kang was able to contribute as a rookie last season, although it took him until May to start producing.
Park headed straight for Fort Myers after TwinsFest. Strikeouts could be an issue, but the Twins will gladly put up with those if Park can hit 20-25 homers.
Speaking of Hunter, who will replace him in right field? Why, Miguel Sano, of course.
A career third baseman whose prior outfield experience was limited to a single inning in the Dominican Summer League, Sano, 22, will be putting in long hours this spring trying to learn the nuances of right field.
Hunter, who arrives Feb. 26 for a 10-day stint as a special instructor, will be a key resource for Sano in the early stages of this conversion. It will be up to first-base coach Butch Davis, who also supervises Twins outfielders, to get Sano to a level of adequacy as soon as possible.
Coming off a standout debut season, the 263-pound Sano will have to guard against taking his glove into the batter’s box, so to speak. Usually, for a young player, it’s the other way around.
Bucking the trend
Byron Buxton barely retained his rookie eligibility after an uneven big-league debut that included a six-week absence with a sprained thumb.
That means the tooled-up center fielder could be among the front-runners for American League Rookie of the Year, but first he will have to win the starting job. That’s clearly the Twins’ best-case scenario, but they won’t rush things if Buxton, 22, doesn’t look ready to be the man on Opening Day.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: The biggest thing for Buxton is staying healthy.
Fallback options in center include Eddie Rosario, who could shift over from left, along with old friends Joe Benson and Darin Mastroianni and former big-leaguer Ryan Sweeney, making a comeback at age 31.
What about Ricky?
When the Twins lured veteran right-hander Ricky Nolasco with a four-year, $49 million guarantee after the 2013 season, they were expecting a string of 200-inning seasons and stabilization for an embarrassing rotation.
It certainly hasn’t worked out that way.
With two years and $25 million remaining on his deal, the oft-injured Nolasco isn’t assured of a spot in the Twins’ bullpen, much less the back end of their rotation. After making just two appearances over the final four months last season, Nolasco has a healthy right ankle and plenty of motivation to reclaim a career that has been stuck in neutral.
His primary competition is young right-hander Tyler Duffey, who opened eyes with a star turn down the stretch, and lefty Tommy Milone, who avoided arbitration at $4.5 million.