Byung-Ho Park was born July 10, 1986, in Buan, South Korea, a rural county in the south of the country on the Yellow Sea. His family moved north to Seoul, and Park attended Sungnam High School. As a senior, he attracted some national attention as he helped lead his school to win the 2004 Blue Dragon Flag National High School Baseball Championship, one of five major high school baseball tournaments in the country. During his run that year, Park became the first high school player in South Korean history to hit four home runs in four consecutive plate appearances.
Later that year, Park was selected to the 18-U national baseball team and participated in the 18-U Baseball World Cup. Along with South Korean star Jeong Choi and current MLB shortstop Jung-Ho Kang, Park helped lead the South Korean team to a bronze medal.
Based on Park's high school performance, the LG Twins selected him in the first round of the 2005 KBO First-Year Player Draft. Primarily a catcher during his high school days, Park converted into a first baseman as a member of the Twins. The pressure of learning a new position, unrealistically high expectations, and the complications of being a raw 18-year-old led Park to have a fairly disastrous rookie season. Logging 185 plate appearances over 79 games, the highly touted rookie hit a measly .190/.265/.313. His sophomore season wasn't much better, as Park hit .162/.227/.292 in 142 plate appearances, leading to a demotion to the Twins' minor league team.
Park spent the next two years in the Republic of Korea Armed Forces, serving the compulsory two-year military tour that all citizens must serve. Specifically, he served in the Korea Armed Forces Athletic Corps Baseball Team. Park was discharged just in time to rejoin the Twins for the 2009 season, but once again was underwhelming. Serving primarily as a backup first baseman and bench player, Park hit .218/.305/.399 with 9 home runs in 213 plate appearances in his return to organized baseball. The next few years were not much better: In 2010, he hit .188/.305/.344 with 7 home runs in 192 plate appearances.
In 2011, the Twins traded Park to the Nexen Heroes. Park, now 24, had appeared in 15 games for the Twins and logged 17 plate appearances, hitting .125/.176/.375. He then logged 213 plate appearances in 51 games for his new team. The first baseman responded to the trade, hitting a much-improved .265/.357/.535 with 12 home runs, all career highs.
The right-handed slugger certainly had plenty of potential, and a fresh start with new coaching helped him break out. At the same time, one cannot consider his improved power numbers without taking his new home field into account. The LG Twins play their home games at Jamsil Baseball Stadium, which is 328 feet down the left field line, 410 feet to straight away center, and 328 feet down the line in right. Mokdong Baseball Stadium, home of the Heroes, is 322 feet down the left field line, 387 to dead center, and 322 down the right field line. It should be noted, however, that many of Park's home runs are mammoth, no-doubt shots, clearing the outfield walls easily and with great height.
The Byung-Ho Park that showed up for the 2012 season was a completely different player from one that suited up from 2005 through 2011. The slugger hit .290/.393/.561 in 133 games, belting a league-leading 31 home runs, and stealing 20 bases for good measure. He led the KBO in doubles, home runs, total bases, RBI, and slugging percentage, was fourth in OPS, and seventh in runs scored. Park was awarded a KBO Gold Glove Award, handed out to the best overall player at each position, and—despite playing for a sub-.500 team—won the KBO MVP Award.
As good as the right-handed slugger was in 2012, he was even better in 2013. That year, the 26-year-old hit .318/.437/.602 with 37 home runs in 128 games, once again leading the league in home runs, total bases, RBI, and slugging percentage. The first baseman won the another Gold Glove and was voted the KBO MVP for the second consecutive year, making him the first player since Seung-Yeop Lee to win consecutive MVP awards.
In 2014, Byung-Ho Park again improved upon already gaudy numbers. That year, the slugger appeared in 128 games and hit .303/.433/.686 with 52 home runs. When the season ended, the Heroes had three equally deserving players for KBO MVP: Park, second baseman Keon-Chang Seo (.370/.438/.547 with 48 steals), and shortstop Jung-Ho Kang (.356/.459/.739 with 40 home runs). Ultimately, Seo won the award, due to his league-leading batting average and stolen base total, and the fact that Park's and Kang's power disappeared in the Korea Series.
Once again in 2015, Park improved upon the impressive numbers that he produced in the previous year. In 2015, the 28-year-old hit .343/.436/.714 with 53 home runs, and became the first player in KBO history to hit 50 or more home runs in back-to-back seasons, and the first to lead the league in home runs for four consecutive seasons. Park might, however, again be passed over for the KBO MVP Award, as former major leaguer and current NC Dino Eric Thames had a historic season of his own, hitting .381/.497/.790 with 47 home runs and 40 steals.
Throughout the 2015 season, MLB teams ramped up their scouting efforts as rumors began flying that Park wanted to be posted and that the Heroes would comply. More than a dozen teams sent scouts to watch the first baseman over the course of the season, with the Red Sox, Pirates, A's, Giants, Rangers, and Padres all having expressed varying levels of interest.
On Monday, November 2, the Heroes officially posted Park. MLB teams will have four business days to submit their bids. Once all bids are in, and the Heroes are informed of the highest bid, they themselves will have four business days to either accept or reject it. If the highest bid is accepted, the winning club will have exclusive rights to negotiate a contract with Park; if the highest bid is rejected, the slugger will be declared ineligible to play in MLB for the 2016 season and cannot be reposted until November 2016.
Park uses an open stance at the plate, allowing him to generate the most power from his 6-foot-1, 230-pound frame. He is fairly quiet at the plate, standing erect with few moving parts. Finally, he incorporates a slight leg kick during his weight transfer, particularly when hitting the ball to the opposite field.
Park has prodigious power, but he uses a long swing that MLB pitchers may exploit. In Korea, the slugger was prone to swinging and missing, striking out roughly 10% more than the rest of the league did since his rise into superstardom in 2012. The right-hander led the league in strikeouts by a healthy margin in both 2014 and 2015, which coincided with his spike in home runs. He finished sixth in strikeouts in 2013, and second in 2012. While he strikes out a lot, the slugger draws his fair share of walks due to a strong eye at the plate and because of the fear pitchers have of his mammoth power.
Defensively, Park is relatively low on the spectrum. While he spent a lot of time doing drills at third base in 2015 and is likely to expand his defensive utility, Park is still primarily a first baseman or DH.
His bat flip game is also off the charts.
Could Park be a useful platoon mate for Lucas Duda at first? Could the Mets use him to spell David Wright at third and add some right-handed power off the bench? Let us know what you think!