Jeong-ho Kang Could Fill a Ben Zobrist Type of Role
By David Hill
With the news that Jeong-ho Kang will officially be a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates, signing a four year contract worth $16 Million, the biggest question now is where he will end up playing. He is expected to battle with Jordy Mercer to be the Pirates primary shortstop, yet the Pirates infield appears to be quite set. Kang’s role is certainly not set as the roster is presently constructed.
Should both players hit well in Spring Training, the Pirates may well decide to keep Mercer in the every day shortstop role as they are familiar with his abilities. This would leave Kang without a set position, but that may actually work to the Pirates advantage. The Pirates may well have a solid, productive player capable of playing virtually anywhere in the infield.
What the Pirates may actually have with Jeong-ho Kang is a less expensive version of Ben Zobrist. While Zobrist was quietly one of the more valuable players in baseball from 2009 through 2012, posting a 27.5 WAR, he split his time between second and right. Zobrist even played 15 or more games at five different positions in that time frame.
Call to the Pen
That defensive versatility may have actually made Zobrist even more valuable than the numbers indicate. Yes, defense factors in to Zobrist’s WAR total, but that ability to be plugged in anywhere without concern has an additional value that cannot be quantified. Perhaps the Pirates can have that same type of player in Kang.
Obviously, without seeing Jeong-ho Kang on the field, it is far too early to expect him to have some sort of Ben Zobrist type of impact. However, if Kang does end up playing around the infield, getting four or five starts a week, he can certainly provide tremendous value for the Pirates. Perhaps, if he plays well enough, he could force his way into the lineup as a starter. Just look at what happened with Josh Harrison last year.
Jeong-ho Kang is not likely to be the player he was in the Korean Baseball League. In fact, he may not even have a set spot in the lineup. That, however, does not mean he cannot be a truly valuable piece for the Pirates next year. Maybe, just maybe, Kang can be the Pirates Ben Zobrist.