South Korean slugger Byung-ho Park is having another terrific year in the KBO, having slugged a league-leading 43 home runs so far, batting .348 (4th), 116 RBIs (1st), 101 runs scored (2nd) and an 1.163 OPS (2nd) with approximately 25 games left in the KBO regular season schedule. If he does in fact finish as the 2015 KBO home run leader, it will be the fourth year in a row he’s done it, and he’s still be only 29 in 2016.
With the success of Jung-ho Kang this year for the Pirates, I feel reasonably certain at least one MLB team will make a serious effort to sign Park this coming off-season. Park won’t be hitting 50 home runs a year in MLB, but a right-handed hitter who can reasonably hit 25 HRs playing every day in MLB has value, at least so long as his on-base percentage is over .320.
The only really negative things that can be said about Park as a hitter are that he does strike out a lot and he’s only the second best hitter in the KBO this season. However, he also draws a lot of walks, and the best hitter in the KBO this season, Eric Thames, is also a fine player who is probably playing better baseball at this moment than some MLB regulars.
Thames played 181 MLB games in his age 24 and 25 seasons and posted a very respectable career .727 OPS in 684 plate appearances. He’s exactly the kind of player who, like Tuffy Rhodes and Randy Bass in years past, has major league talent, but somehow couldn’t establish himself in MLB and instead blossomed in Asia where the competition isn’t quite as good.
In fact, I expect that Thames will move on to Japan’s NPB next season, where he’ll make more money, after the two tremendous KBO seasons he’s had. In NPB, he could be the Ty Woods, a minor league slugger who turned success in the KBO into even more success in NPB. Thames will also be 29 next year, and he’s already had his major league shot, so I think NPB is his most likely landing spot next year.