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Not yet big leaguer, S. Korean Park Byung-ho already listed as top rookie candidate for 2016

All Headlines 10:13 November 17, 2015

SEOUL, Nov. 17 (Yonhap) -- He has yet to sign a major league contract, but that hasn't stopped at least one U.S. website from listing South Korean slugger Park Byung-ho as a Rookie of the Year candidate for 2016.

A column on ESPN.com ranked Park, currently in contract talks with the Minnesota Twins, No. 2 on the list of candidates for the 2016 American League Rookie of the Year award, behind Texas Rangers' outfield prospect Lewis Brinson.

After his Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) club posted him on Nov. 2, the power-hitting first baseman drew a bid of $US12.85 million from the Twins in a major league silent auction. The Twins earned themselves a 30-day window to negotiate with Park, and the deadline is 5 p.m. on Dec. 8, Eastern Standard Time. Park is currently playing for the South Korean national team at the Premier 12 tournament.

Park is coming off his second-straight 50-homer season in the KBO, setting career-highs with 53 home runs and 146 RBIs. The RBI total was also a single-season record in the KBO, and the 29-year-old is the first KBO player to lead the league in home runs and RBIs in four straight years.

"This guy hasn't even signed with the Twins yet, and this shows how wide open the 2016 AL ROY race figures to be," the article noted.

The Twins don't appear to have a pressing need at first base, with veteran and hometown hero Joe Mauer entrenched in the position. In 2015, rookie Miguel Sano was their primary designated hitter, but the Twins are trying to move him to outfield and make Park their new DH.

If Sano's move to outfield doesn't work -- there is room for him following Torii Hunter's retirement and a recent trade of Aaron Hicks -- he will likely play third base, his primary position in the minors, with the incumbent Trevor Plouffe getting on the trading block.

The column also pointed out that Kang Jung-ho, Park's former Nexen teammate who enjoyed a solid rookie season with the Pittsburgh Pirates this year, proved it is "unwise to summarily discount the power potential of KBO imports."

Kang, the first position player to go from the KBO to the big leagues via posting, hit 40 home runs in 2014 in the KBO, and overcame a slow start to hit 15 in 126 games for the Bucs, while also displaying some gap power with 24 doubles.

"Target Field (the Twins' home) is friendly to righty fly-ball hitters," the ESPN.com article went on. "In a year with very few rookies that have clear roads to playing time in the AL, Park is likely to be in the ROY mix if he signs."

If Park and the Twins come to an agreement, the Heroes will pocket the $12.85 million posting fee as compensation. If Park doesn't sign, the Twins will withdraw their fee and Park can't be posted again until Nov. 1 next year.

He will then have the option of entering contract talks with interested clubs in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) or return to the Heroes for at least one more season.

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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