Assessing the Value of Pirates’ Jung Ho Kang

The Pittsburgh Pirates, currently sitting at 31-31 thus far in the 2018 season, may be getting a boost to their lineup in the not-so-distant future. Jung Ho Kang is currently attempting to make his return to the big league club after a troubling offseason.

Kang was arrested back in the winter of 2016 for a DUI in South Korea, his third such offense since 2009. As a result of the DUI, Kang received a suspended eight-month prison sentence, thus preventing him from receiving a work visa that would allow him to play for the Pirates during the 2017 season. Kang is now back in the Pirates organization after serving his punishment and is currently playing in Class-A Bradenton. He is on the final year of his 4-year, $11 million contract, though his contract does include a 2019 club option.

Kang has spoken openly about his drinking problems and has recently vowed that he will not touch alcohol anymore. Speaking to the Associated Press, Kang said, “Obviously, I’m not touching a drop of alcohol moving forward.” He also admitted that he chose not to disclose his previous DUI arrests to the Pirates organization. “Looking back at it, it was an ill-informed decision and I’m very regretful for doing that.”

Kang expressed his hope that the fans in Pittsburgh will eventually forgive and embrace him should he make it back to the majors. “The experiences that I’ve had with Pittsburgh and its fans has been such an overwhelming experience I saw it as a motivation for me to fight back and repay my debts to the faithful of Pittsburgh,” Kang said. “But whatever the reaction is, even if there are jeers from the crowd, that’s something that I deserve and I’ll take full responsibility and ownership to that reaction.”

He has played only four games with Class-A Bradenton but Kang is already showing promise on the comeback trail, hitting .462 with two home runs and seven runs batted in. It is likely that Kang will be promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis fairly soon as the Pirates look to bring him back into the fold this season.

Kang showed off his offensive prowess in his rookie year back in 2015, hitting .287 with 15 home runs and 58 runs batted in through 126 games. He finished 3rd in the National League Rookie of the Year Award voting that season. Kang’s numbers took a slight dip in the 2016 season in which he finished with a .255 batting average while playing in just 103 games. However, Kang also showed more pop by hitting 21 home runs that season.

After trouble overseas, @Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang is back in North America and working his way to an MLB return. What kind of impact can Kang have going forward?Click To Tweet

Kang’s year-plus layoff from baseball obviously brings into question how effectively he can return to form. His hot start in Class-A is encouraging, but Kang will have to show that same progress when he is eventually promoted to Triple-A soon.

His potential role with the Pirates remains to be seen, but all signs point to Kang getting a shot at the shortstop position with the big league club. David Freese and Colin Moran have been splitting duties at third base, and both have performed admirably so far this season. Meanwhile, Jordy Mercer has had an up-and-down season thus far at shortstop, and the Pirates could use some extra offense at that position.

The Pirates are not projected to be a playoff contender in 2018, but a returning Jung Ho Kang could help propel the team towards the Wild Card hunt if he is able to regain his form. Kang, 31, has a lot on the line as his contract is set to expire at the end of this season, at which point the Pirates will have to decide whether or not to exercise the club option for the 2019 season. The other possibility for the rebuilding Pirates is that Kang performs well enough to become a moveable asset that they can cash in on at the trade deadline this year.

Kang has a new lease on his career thanks to the patience and understanding of the Pirates’ brass, and it would benefit both parties if Kang is able to return and have a positive impact on the team for the remainder of the 2018 season. Time will tell if Kang cashes in on his new opportunity or not.

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