When you are the first to attempt to do something, there is quiet a bit of pressure, especially when it comes to playing professional baseball. Hideo Nomo was the first Japanese pitcher to come over to the majors since the 1960’s, helping to pave the path for the plethora of pitchers that have made that same transition. Ichiro Suzuki did the same for Japanese position players, setting the stage for others to come across the Pacific. Now, Jung-ho Kang is trying to do the same for Korean position players.
While pitchers who played in the Korean Baseball Organization have come across to play in the majors, Kang is the first position player to attempt to do so. Naturally, as he is the first to make the transition, there will be plenty of questions about how his .356/.459/.739 batting line with forty home runs will translate to the majors.
While it is highly unrealistic to expect that Jung-ho Kang will hit at that rate, if he can produce solid numbers, he could help other position players from the Korean Baseball Organization to come over. It is highly doubtful to expect Kang to be Ichiro from 2001, but he could have that same sort of impact, at least in terms of getting his countrymen into the majors.
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If Kang falls flat, however? Well, it may have been what would have happened if Norihiro Nakamura had been the first Japanese position player to play in the majors. Anyone seeing his .128/.171/.179 batting line would just assume that Japanese players could not make it at the major league level. instead of the influx that there currently is, it may have been a few more years before another position player was given a chance.
Not only is Jung-ho Kang carrying the weight of the Pirates own expectations, but he is also carrying the weight of his countrymen as well. Kang’s performance, whether good, bad or indifferent, could make a major impact on how other players there are perceived. While it may be completely unfair, as Kang is the only player to come over thus far, he is the only real idea that anyone would have of the capability of a player from the Korean baseball League to handle the majors.
Jung-ho Kang will be fascinating to watch during the 2015 season, not just for what he can do for the Pirates, but what his performance could mean for other Korean position players.