Jung Ho Kang isn’t going to the minors. At least, that’s what General Manger Neal Huntington is saying, and has been saying all along. Kang was signed in the offseason to an $11 million deal, which isn’t chump change to the Pittsburgh Pirates. This is the team that traded Travis Snider for two minor league prospects this offseason, in part, to add payroll flexibility. This could mean that the team would have more money to take on acquisitions during the season via trade. Snider was making less than Kang is now, coming in at just $2.1 million, according to Baseball Prospectus. To a small market team like the Pirates, every dollar counts, and management may not want to pay a player $11 million to not contribute for the major league club.
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So, why is there talk among baseball fans, experts, and media members that Kang may need some time in the minors, knowing the money he signed for? Part of that reason is because Kang batted a mere .200 in 45 at-bats during spring training, so some people thought he wasn’t ready for major league pitching. Then again, Chris Stewart, Andrew Lambo, and Sean Rodriguez batted just as bad or worse than Kang this past spring, and all three of them occupy spots on the 25-man roster. Another reason is that Kang is only batting .100 in ten major league at-bats. But this is such a small sample size, so his production can’t truly be scrutinized just yet.
The biggest reason people want Kang down at Triple-A is because he isn’t getting regular at-bats at the major league level. How can a player adjust to major league pitching without seeing it regularly? Many big-name prospects who are called up from the minors take hundreds of at-bats to adjust to the majors. At the rate he’s going now, he may not get that many at-bats until next season.
What is management’s stance on Kang?
Rob Biertempfel, Pirates beat writer for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, goes on to say:
Maybe the Korean Baseball Organization is similar to Triple-A, and maybe Kang has earned the opportunity to prove his worth in the majors. But he just can’t prove that without consistent playing time. In a story published by Bill West, Staff Writer for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Huntington is quoted as saying this:
"“The gap between AAA baseball and big league baseball has never been larger,” Huntington said. “So we get a young man who is coming from a different culture, coming from a different country, coming to a completely new environment and a completely new league. Those variables that would be added by dropping him down to Triple-A (Indianapolis), in our minds, don’t make sense."
Interesting. The change of culture is definitely a big factor for management in keeping Jung Ho Kang at the major league level. It has also probably been at least a partial factor in his production, or lack thereof, so far in spring training and in the majors. In any case, it doesn’t seem like Kang is going to be sent down to the minors anytime soon. Whether it’s truly because of what Pirates management says, or whether it’s for other reasons, Kang will have to find ways here and there to contribute at the major league level.