South Korean minor leaguer Park Hoy-jun was set to be called up by the New York Yankees this week in the Bronx, pushing the 25-year-old closer to his big league debut, an informed source told Yonhap News Agency.
The source, requesting anonymity, said Park was being added to the major league taxi squad and "heading to New York on standby" on Thursday (local time). The Yankees were scheduled to host the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium that day to open the second half of the season, but the game was postponed because of positive COVID-19 tests within the New York team. More testing and contact tracing are under way.
The taxi squad refers to a group of five players who serve as substitutes in case someone on the major league roster becomes unavailable. It became a part of the new normal in the majors in 2020, as teams sought to navigate a pandemic-plagued season, and it's designed to mitigate risks of having players sidelined at short notice due to a positive COVID-19 test.
The source said Park will have to wait for results of secondary tests on Yankees' major leaguers before he can be officially activated. The Yankees earlier announced three pitchers had been confirmed as positive and three other players were awaiting lab results after receiving multiple positive diagnoses from rapid testing.
If that happens in the coming days, Park would then become the sixth South Korean player to don a big league uniform in 2021, joining Ryu Hyun-jin of the Toronto Blue Jays, Kim Kwang-hyun of the St. Louis Cardinals, Choi Ji-man of the Tampa Bay Rays, Yang Hyeon-jong of the Texas Rangers and Park's former high school teammate, Kim Ha-seong of the San Diego Padres. Yang has since been sent down to Triple-A and four others remain in the bigs.
Park has been tearing up Triple-A pitching this year for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, with a .325/.475/.541 line with eight homers, 25 RBIs and six steals in 44 games. He has 43 walks and 41 strikeouts.
Park has also appeared at four different positions, second base, shortstop, left field and center field, as the Yankees have sought to diversify the portfolio for the young middle infielder.
Park signed with the Yankees organization as an 18-year-old in 2014 and joined their rookie league the following year.
He has been moving up the ladder since then and reached Triple-A for the first time in 2021.
The Yankees, a disappointing fourth in the American League (AL) East at 46-43 at the All-Star break, could certainly use some offensive production from their middle infielders.
They're second-to-last among 15 AL clubs in on-base slugging percentage (OPS) by shortstops with .628 and 10th by second basemen with .691.
Rougned Odor, who had three 30-homer seasons for the Texas Rangers, hasn't been able to duplicate his power production after joining the Yankees in an April trade. The veteran second baseman is hitting .218/.291/.424 with nine homers and 21 RBIs in 52 games.
Shortstop Gleyber Torres, two years removed from a 38-homer, 90-RBI campaign, is stuck at three homers through 77 games. (Yonhap)