The Pittsburgh Pirates will get one of their biggest sluggers back this weekend
After an absence of nearly two full calendar years, Jung Ho Kang is set to return to the Major Leagues. Yesterday, the Pittsburgh Pirates announced that the slugging infielder will join the team in Cincinnati this weekend.
Kang’s return comes after spending all of 2017 on the restricted list due to DUI charges in his native South Korea. After beginning the 2018 season still on the restricted list, Kang was reinstated in April.
Upon his reinstatement, Kang began to play for minor league affiliates of the Pirates. Kang appeared to be on the brink of returning to the MLB level this summer before a wrist injury that required surgery sidetracked him. However, to his credit, he has battled back and is now back in the Majors.
It will be exciting to see what Kang can do for the Pirates this weekend. Even if Kang struggles, him not struggling would be a pleasant surprise quite honestly, there is still an opportunity to be had for him in 2019. So, what kind of role can Kang play for the Pirates in 2019?
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Entering this offseason the argument can be made that the Pirates’ two biggest question marks are third base and shortstop. What two positions does Kang play? Third base and shortstop.
The team’s primary third baseman in 2018 has been Colin Moran. Offensively, Moran has been average at best this season. Defensively, he has been well below average at the hot corner.
As for shortstop, Jordy Mercer is set to hit free agency and Kevin Newman has not shown he is ready to be the team’s starting shortstop in 2019. Newman is slashing .198/.241/.222 at the MLB level with poor defense, so there are at bats to be had at shortstop.
Kang also provides the type of power that the Pirate lineup desperately lacks. Kang owns a .210 ISO, .483 slugging percentage, and a 10.9% extra base hit rate in his MLB career. These are the type of power numbers that no one else in the Pirate lineup possesses.
If Kang can come out in 2019 and hit for the power he did in 2015 and 2016, then it is difficult to envision him not winning a starting job for the Bucs. If nothing else, Kang should have a bench role for the Bucs in 2019.
The Pirates own a $5.5 million option on Kang for 2019. If the option is picked up, and I believe it will be, it’s tough to envision a scenario where he is not on the team’s Opening Day roster next spring.
Due to his power and his ability to play the two position’s where the Pirates lack offense most, there is definitely a role for Kang in 2019. What that role is remains to be seen. But seeing Kang win back the third base job next season would not be a surprise at all.