By Yoo Jee-ho
INCHEON, Jan. 12 (Yonhap) -- South Korean slugger Park Byung-ho, who signed with the Minnesota Twins this offseason, said Tuesday he hopes to continue his hard-hitting ways as a big league rookie in 2016.
Park left for the United States Tuesday to continue preparations for his first Major League Baseball (MLB) season having signed a four-year deal worth US$12 million. The two-time MVP with the Nexen Heroes in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) will first work out with the Heroes in Arizona before reporting to the Twins' spring training in Fort Myers, Florida, on Feb. 26.
Park belted a career-high 53 home runs in the KBO last year, his second straight 50-homer season. It capped off a dominant four-year stretch in which he belted 173 home runs with 492 RBIs while twice winning MVP and twice finishing second in the voting.
The 29-year-old said he understands what the Twins count on him to do and he's ready to live up to expectations.
"I know the Twins signed me because of all the home runs I've hit in Korea," Park told reporters at Incheon International Airport. "I'd like to hit a lot of home runs in the majors, too, and to develop into a consistent slugger."
Park, who has been notoriously shy about discussing his numbers in the KBO, said he hasn't set any statistical goal for himself, adding, "My biggest objective is to make quick adjustments to the new league."
"Since this will be my first season, I think I will need time to adjust and will go through some rough patches," Park added. "I think baseball itself will be the same. I will have to adjust to new teammates and a new culture. I will also be facing entirely new pitchers, and I will have to study them thoroughly and correct my weaknesses."
After the Twins signed Park, Paul Molitor, the team's manager, said the club will "need to be patient with him" and make sure he won't worry about frustration with the adjustment period early in the season. Park said Molitor had told him the same thing when they'd met earlier, and that he appreciates the manager's generosity.
"The club is showing me a lot of faith, and I have to work that much harder to prepare for the season the best I can," Park said. "I don't want to be in a hurry. It's important to make a good impression at the camp, but if I peak too early, it will actually be detrimental later in the season. I will have to talk things over with the coaches."
Park has been a first baseman for the majority of his KBO career but is expected to serve as the primary designated hitter for the Twins. Joe Mauer, once an MVP-winning catcher and the face of the franchise, is now the team's everyday first baseman. To make room for Park, the Twins are trying to convert last year's DH, Miguel Sano, into a corner outfielder in 2016.
Park, who has previously said he'd prefer to play in the field, said the Twins told him that he'd be the DH for most of the season but that they expect him to also be ready to take the field "once or twice a week."
Park is one of three South Koreans to sign a major league deal this winter, along with outfielder Kim Hyun-soo of the Baltimore Orioles and right-hander Oh Seung-hwan of the St. Louis Cardinals. They're joined by three incumbents: Choo Shin-soo of the Texas Rangers, Ryu Hyun-jin of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Kang Jung-ho of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Park and Kim, should both be in the Opening Day lineup, will go head-to-head for the first game of the season on April 4 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
"With more Korean players in the majors, there will be more opportunities to promote our home country," Park said. "I think it will be fun to play against fellow Koreans in the U.S., and I think the fans will enjoy it, too."
The Twins are looking for more punch in their lineup after ranking in the lower half of the American League last year in hits (14th), home runs (10th), slugging percentage (12th) and extra-base hits (10th).
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