FORT MYERS, FLA. — The games that don't count have started. So has the evaluation of the players on the fringe.
The fringe guys aren't alone in being stared at. Two sluggers who figure to be in the middle of the Minnesota lineup are the focus of attention in the early going: Miguel Sano for his transition to right field, Byung Ho Park for his transition to American baseball.
I spent some vacation days in the southern tip of Twins Territory last week and watched three games. Sano and Park started all three games.
Sano had a rough time in right field in one of those three games, misjudging a fly ball. He wasn't tested at all in another and handled routine plays routinely in the third. As I said here last week: Patience is the word. Sano is probably never going to be a stellar defensive outfielder, but he doesn't have to be to make this move a success.
Park has been strictly a designated hitter so far. He garnered one single in his first three games.
Again, patience figures to be needed with Park. He's expected to struggle a bit to start with; he's spent his career to date in Korea, and that's not a particularly high level of competition.
What I've noticed in his two handfuls of at-bats so far: He's perhaps overly braced for pitch velocity, aware that hurlers here throw harder than in South Korea, and he has struck out several times on breaking balls or change ups.
Park is so far from being a known commodity that the Red Sox listed him in the posted lineup for Wednesday's game as "Ho Park," but the Ho is part of his given name.
One thing we can be sure of: Park will strike out a lot.Even as he dominated the Korean Baseball Organization the last two years (he hit 53 and 52 homers with batting averages of .303 and .343), he stuck out more than 300 times in 2014-15 combined. That K rate isn't likely to decline in the states.
One reason I believe Park will be a productive hitter in the United States is the productive 2015 of fellow Korean Jung Ho Kang of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Kang was a teammate of Park with the Nexen Heroes. Kang hit 40 homers with a .353 batting average his final season in South Korea; with the Pirates, he hit .287 with 15 homers before his season was cut short by a broken leg.
Kang played considerable shortstop for the Pirates, so he and Park are hardly the same kind of player. But there's no reason in their Korean stats to say Kang is a better hitter than Park. I don't expect Park to hit for a big average, but I do expect him to launch at least one homer a week.
The Twins do have other options for the DH job. Prominent among them is Oswaldo Arcia, who played his way out of a prominent role in the Twins plans last season and is now out of options. Kennys Vargas is still around as well.
But the Twins invested more than $24 million in Park this offseason. It will take more than a slow start in his exhibition at bats — or even a slow spring training — to lead the organization to sidetrack him.