One of the biggest gambling events in baseball is the international free agent signing period. For years, MLB teams have thrown money at remarkably talented teenagers from around the world, hoping to strike gold. Players like Ronald Acuña Jr., Fernando Tatis Jr., and Juan Soto are among the recent superstars who have emerged from these groups. That’s the dream.
In 2014, the Yankees tried their hand at a recent trend by going hog wild in the IFA market, incurring penalties on their next two classes but signing 10 of the top 30 IFAs in the process (and 52 overall). It wasn’t a bad idea, but the team essentially ended up rolling a zero in roulette. Few of the minor leaguers still have relevant status in the organization, and the top recent prospect of the class, Estevan Florial, has more than his fair share of doubters.
One man from the spending spree who could end up seeing the majors at some point simply by proximity is Hoy Jun Park. His ceiling is low and it’d be a long shot for his opportunity to arrive in pinstripes, but Park’s day in The Show may come just yet.
2019 Stats (Double-A Trenton): 485 PA, .272/.364/.370, 20 2B, 41 RBI, 18.7 K%, 11.7 BB%, 120 wRC+
Prospect Ranking (Yankees system): Not Listed
Signed for $1.2 million in July 2014, Park was already one of the oldest players in the class at age 19. Given the South Korean infielder’s lengthier background though, he didn’t need to spend much time in the Yankees’ absolute lowest levels of the minors in Rookie ball. The problem is that Park needed about a season and a half to fully get his bearings at both Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa.
Sure enough, Park had a 97 wRC+ in 116 games with Charleston in 2016 before rebounding to a .262/.358/.367 triple slash in 86 games in 2017, good for a 116 wRC+. That earned him an August promotion to Tampa, and he fell on his face down the stretch before again bouncing back to hit .258/.387/.349 with a 122 wRC+ in 103 games in 2018. Park at least avoided the immediate slump in Trenton in 2019, but given his slow pace of moving through the minors, a 120 wRC+ with so-so pop will only do so much to attract eyes.
Park does have nice speed though, stealing 107 bases in 139 opportunities throughout the minors (76.9 percent). This was most on display in Trenton’s run to the 2019 Eastern League championship, when Park caught the Bowie BaySox napping and stole home:
Jackie Robinson would be proud of that swipe. The only problem is that Park was thrown out on a third of his stolen base attempts in 2019 (20 of 30 overall), so against more legitimate catchers, his speed on the basepaths could be relatively neutralized.
To Park’s credit, Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs did recently remark that he had “average contact/patience profile and 45 raw power,” and that he could very well be a realistic bench piece one day. The problem is that this all came after listing 48 other prospects. It’s certainly worth noting when particular minor leaguers stand out as potential future big leaguers of any renown, but it doesn’t say much about Park that he was getting beat out by the likes of relief prospects and other unknowns.
Park does also provide up-the-middle depth, since he has played extensively at both second base and shortstop, though he’s likely more at home at the keystone. That versatility helped him get into 11 exhibition games this spring, particularly while the slick-fielding Kyle Holder was trying to nab an Opening Day roster role with the Reds via the Rule 5 Draft. Unfortunately for Park, he was held hitless in camp, and Holder was sent right back to New York, putting another infielder at the precipice ahead of Park on the depth chart.
At this pace though, Park might already have a spot in Triple-A locked up. He’s appeared in a decent number of exhibitions at the Yankees’ alternate site, so it’s only logical that Park could end up in Scranton, though his playing time might depend on whether or not Tyler Wade is down there for an extended period. If not, then Holder could play shortstop while Park mans second. Something would have to go seriously wrong for him to make the Yankees, but if he puts together a decent year in 2021? Then perhaps a more promising future via minor league free agency awaits.