The Yankees have always looked deep into international territory to find the strongest and most diverse players for their organization. Of their group of typical international signees, there are the obvious ones from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Cuba. One that is not so normal and typical is a signee out of South Korea, and that's where the Yankees landed 19-year-old Hoy Jun Park $1.2 million bonus in 2014.
His native tongue in Korean is not really normal in the sport of baseball State-side and in the dugout, everyone is used to hearing Spanish and English mostly, so it is an adjustment for Park even with his language barrier. He has been working on his English skills but with the help of a translator he is able to communicate with his teammates and coaches well enough.
At 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds, Park shows outrageous athleticism and power at shortstop and second base. His defense has helped the Charleston Riverdogs land in first place in the South Atlantic League and has made them serious contenders for the playoffs this season.
“I have loved being here in Charleston playing night games. It is different in South Korea. The entire game is different, but I think I am making the necessary adjustments so far,” Park said with the help of his translator, David.
He has surprising power from his core for someone with his size build and if you were to watch him closely enough, he also has a tremendous amount of fun on the field. He is always smiling, even if he has a bad game every once in a while.
He played at Pulaski last season before being promoted to Charleston for a full season this year. Though his .229 batting average might not exactly show it just yet, he’s finding his groove with this team.
“It’s a hard process working up to the major league, so I’m trying to learn a lot and work with my coaches well," Park said. "Regardless of how I do on the field that day, I’m really just trying to have fun.
I want to improve overall in my fielding, especially at second base. When the ball is hit, the angle is different at shortstop than at second base, and in the double play situations, I have to move differently than I would normally at shortstop. I think I can be a great second baseman, I just have to make the necessary adjustments.”
Just like any newcomer to the world of professional baseball, the life of a minor league is as much as a shock to anyone, especially someone not used to this culture to begin with. Leaving the controlled atmosphere of Extended Spring Training and going to night games with tons of fans around is a hard transition, but Park is jumping at the opportunity.
“The biggest thing for me was being able to adjust to pitchers at this level. It is different than in South Korea, and I’ve had to overcome some obstacles and make certain adjustments, but I think I am doing well.”
And he is doing well. His batting average is low right now but he does have 15 extra-base hits and 12 stolen bases thus far. Charleston hitting coach Greg Colbrunn and manager Luis Dorante believe he’s been a useful player to have around.
“He’s got a real good set of hands and a solid swing," Colbrunn said. "One thing we are working on is his balance, but he’s getting better every day. He is 19-20 years old, coming from South Korea, it's day in and day out, grinding every day, and playing a lot of baseball.”
Dorante says he needs to work on getting bigger and stronger in the weight room too, and work on getting really consistent at the plate and provide good, strong at-bats.
“Hoy has been a great addition to this team, and we’re excited to see where he goes from here. He has a lot of work to do in the meantime, but he has a lot of great potential tool,” Colbrunn added.
There is no doubt that Park will live up to his potential in the seasons to come, it is a matter of just working out the kinks and being the best he can be.