Despite varying levels of excitement amongst fans, the agent for Korean infielder Jung-ho Kang, Alan Nero, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette this week that he fully expects the Pittsburgh Pirates to sign his client after winning negotiating rights last month with a bid that came in just over $5 million.
Kang, 27, has dominated the hitter-friendly Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) in recent years. Last season, with the Nexen Heroes, the infielder batted a robust .356, slugging 40 home runs. According to the Post-Gazette report, he’s hit at least 22 long-balls in each of the past three seasons.
Nero, meanwhile, said all signs point to the two sides coming to an agreement that would bring Kang to Major League Baseball this year.
"At this point, I feel confident we’ll come to an agreement. The process has been very positive. [General manager] Neal [Huntington] has tried very hard to basically come to the table with an offer."
Pittsburgh has Neal Walker slotted in as the team’s starting second baseman heading into 2015 – but back injuries remain a concern moving forward. Last year, however, was one of Walker’s best offensive campaigns to-date, as he batted .271/.342/.467 with a career-high 23 home runs – netting him his first Silver Slugger Award.
Opposite Walker up the middle is shortstop Jordy Mercer, who is coming off a 149-game campaign in which he hit 12 home runs while driving in 55 runs. He also added a career-best 27 doubles, leading to increased enthusiasm and support from a large percentage of Pirates’ faithful.
Nero, who has an obvious bias in this discussion, said the team would no-doubt benefit from adding Kang – especially in terms of offense.
"“I think that the potential of having him in the lineup somewhere, with his power, I think that would help the Pirates win,” Nero said."
What role the Pirates envision for Kang is unknown. Odds are, he will be given a shot to showcase his skills and earn a role with the club out of camp. However, unless an injury takes down Walker or Mercer, it’s hard to believe the team would usurp either of them for an unproven commodity in Kang.
That being said, with his dominance at the plate shown last season in Korea, maybe the Pirates take a gamble on him in the starting lineup. Either way, it’s definitely one of the best storylines to watch this spring.