After almost two years, the Pittsburgh Pirates will see former star infielder Jung Ho Kang get back into game action. However, it will be in the minor leagues.
There were two major events that affected the Pittsburgh Pirates chances during the 2017 season. The one event was Starling Marte getting suspended for 80 games after testing positive for a Performance Enhancing Drug. Then, of course, before the season even started third baseman Jung Ho Kang was lost for the entire season. This came after he was convicted of his third DUI in his native country of South Korea. He was given a sentence of two years in prison. However, he was told that as long as he stayed out of trouble he would not have to serve any time in prison, essentially he was put on probation. Still, being he was convicted, the United States would not grant Kang a work VISA. So Kang ended up missing the entire 2017 season. The Pittsburgh Pirates missed him as well.
For months it was kept under wraps about whether or not Kang would be returning to the Pittsburgh Pirates for the 2018 season. Toward the end of April, it was announced out of nowhere that Kang received his work VISA and was on his way to the Pittsburgh Pirates extended Spring Training facilities. He has played in extended Spring Training over the last month. Of course, there is not a lot of information on how he performed in extended Spring Training, but that he was playing.
Today, it was reported by Adam Berry of MLB.com that Kang would start playing in official games. Kang has been given a minor league assignment and will start his climb back to the major league roster in High-A Bradenton. The Marauders are currently 26-22 this season and likely will see Kang join their lineup for an extended period. Kang will look to get back to playing regularly in competitive action. He will likely replace current third baseman Hunter Owen. The High-A team will likely see a boost in production from the hot corner being that Owen is only batting .201 on the season. Also, Kang will likely see some time as a designated hitter as he gets his feet back under him.
How will Kang fit in down the road?
It will be interesting to see how Kang fits into the 25-man roster once he is ready. Right now the Pittsburgh Pirates have Colin Moran and David Freese at the hot corner. Moran has hit consistently all season and will keep improving. Meanwhile, Freese is spelling Moran normally against left-handed pitching. Furthermore, the team has plenty of options at second base with Josh Harrison, Sean Rodriguez, and Adam Frazier. One possibility is the team could open up space by dealing one of those depth pieces, specifically David Freese. If the Pittsburgh Pirates want to continue and limit Moran’s exposure against left-handed pitching then Kang could easily fill the role. Still, that will not be until July at the earliest, as Kang has plenty of work to do in the minors first.