Pirates sign Korean infielder Jung-ho Kang
By: Jack Merlino
One week ago, the Pittsburgh Pirates announced the signing of Jung-ho Kang, a power-hitting shortstop out of the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), to a four-year deal with an option for a fifth year. The 27-year old Kang hit for a .356 batting average with an impressive 40 home runs and 117 RBIs (runs batted in) in 117 games last season for the Nexen Heroes. In addition to the $5 million that Pittsburgh sent to Nexen for the rights to negotiate with Kang, the deal will pay him a guaranteed $11 million, with the option being valued at $5.5 million.
Regarding Kang’s skill set, baseball scouts all agree that he will bring power to the Pirates, but their primary concern is whether he will be able to transition well from the notoriously hitter-friendly KBO to the MLB. Charlie Wilmoth of MLB Trade Rumors compared the KBO to the Double-A minor league level, and many scouts still believe that while he may never replicate his 40-home run effort, he could still hit somewhere around 20 home runs over the course of a season. However, the main question the Pirates face is where Kang fits in to the everyday lineup.
Kang can play both shortstop and third base, both spots that are taken by talented young players with major league experience. Josh Harrison, who played third base for the Bucs last year, is coming off a very strong season that had him place 9th in the National League MVP voting. Barring an injury, he’ll be the Pirates’ starting third baseman. That leaves Jordy Mercer, who had a top season defensively at shortstop, but was average at best when it came to hitting. The Pirates have a tough decision to make here, and it looks like it could be a classic ‘sacrificing-defense-for-offense’ scenario. Either way, Korea will be broadcasting every regular-season Pirates game, and Kang will attract lots of money from Korean companies looking to advertise with Pittsburgh.