Pittsburgh Pirates Make it or Break it Candidates for 2017
Editorial: Which Pittsburgh Pirates will step up to the plate in 2017 that failed to do so in 2016? Here are three make it or break it candidates and how they could change everything for the Pirates in 2017.
In a 2015 press conference, Mike Tomlin backed up his decision to go for a game winning touchdown instead of a game tying field goal against the San Diego Chargers by stating, “I don’t live in fear”. You can’t live in your fears when it comes to the highest level of competition in any sport and Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington knows this better than anyone else.
As a general manager in the MLB, you only have so much money to spend. Yes you can prepare for some disasters – you can have a rainy day fund, but at the end of the day you can’t afford to live in your fears and purchase competitive backups at every position. The general manager has to be able to trust that his players will play up to their potential, especially for a small market team like the Pirates. Especially if you want to beat the defending World Series holders who just happen to be in your division.
At the end of the day, the Pirates are good enough to contend for a playoff run with the players that the team currently has on their roster, but only if those players play up to their full potential.
Therefore, it is important for some of the players on the roster that floundered last year to play some of their best baseball ever. This series of posts will look into three players that I believe could make or break the 2017 Pittsburgh Pirates season depending on how they perform. So without further hindrance, let the analysis begin!
Make or break player #1: Jung Ho Kang
Jung Ho Kang has to be one of the most interesting players in the MLB. In 2015, the Pirates signed Jung Ho Kang to a 4 year guaranteed $11 million contract with a 5th year option, making him the first KBO position player to transition directly to the MLB (KBO – Korean Baseball Organization). Kang, already a superstar in South Korea, immediately made the Pittsburgh Pirates the new favorite MLB team for an entire country.
Kang’s rookie season in 2015 went better than most could have hoped for and the rookie’s unique swing smashed 15 homers, brought in 58 runs, and sported a .287 batting average. He also posted a 4.0 WAR (wins above replacement). These impressive numbers led to him finishing third in NL rookie of the year voting. Sadly, Kang’s 2015 season was cut short by a torn MCL in September – removing a dynamic player from the Pirate’s roster when he was needed most.
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The 2016 season was a tease for Pirates fans. Kang’s season was littered with a mixture of injuries and pure brilliance. Kang missed opening day and the entire month of April due to his lingering MCL tear, was plagued in July by a sexual assault case (that eventually led nowhere), and finally missed the end of August and the beginning of September due to a shoulder injury. In between the plethora of injuries and off-field issues, Kang teased Pirates fans with his astounding bat. With only 318 at bats Kang hit 21 home-runs, batted in 62 runs, and considerably lowered his strikeout to walk ratio from the 2015 season.
When he played, Kang looked like an everyday third baseman. Heck, Kang showed flashes of being an All-Star third baseman. His 15.1 AB/HR ratio was comparable to Chris Carter’s league leading 13.4 AB/HR (among qualifying players).
The Pittsburgh Pirates need Jung Ho Kang in 2017. They need his flashy glove at third, his steady bat in the back half of their line-up, and they especially need his power.
I believe that 2017 is Kang’s time to shine. Kang is due for an injury free season that posts close to 550 at bats. As far as off-field issue go, with his recent DUI court case, Kang is on a short leash. One more off-field spectacle could end his career and put him in jail. I believe Kang has seen the light and will stay on the straight and narrow for the entire season.
If all goes well Kang will put the fears of many to rest, end the season hitting clean-up for the Pirates, and carry the team with his RBI-seeking mentality. Check in again soon for the next two players that can make or break the Pirate’s 2017 season.
Since writing this Kang has not been given his VISA to re-enter the United States. However, when he is given his chance to come back he has a lot to prove on the field and off the field. It is not only a make or break year for him as a player, but also as a person.
*Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference, ESPN, MLB, and Fox Sports