One of the biggest needs for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2019 is more pop in their lineup, and they may have an internal fix to this problem
At one point in time it seemed quite possible that Jung Ho Kang would never play in the Major Leagues again. After being charged with his second DUI in his native South Korea during the 2016-2017 offseason, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ slugger could not receive a work visa and missed all of 2017.
As Kang continued to try, and fail, to acquire a new work visa it appeared he would miss all fo 2018 as well. However, in mid-April Kang was able to receive a new work visa. And with that, his road back to the Majors began.
Kang first reported to extended spring training in Bradenton to begin to take at bats and get live game reps at third base and shortstop. From there, he moved on to playing for the High-A Bradenton Mauraders before being promoted to the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians.
With Kang hitting the ball well at Triple-A his return to the Majors appeared imminent. Things then went off the rails for Kang. Following a wrist injury that required surgery, his minor league season ended on June 24th.
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Prior to the injury Kang was slashing .310/.408/.517 in the minor leagues. Factor in a .207 ISO, .414 wOBA, and a 161 wRC+ and he was on the brink of being recalled by the Pirates.
When his wrist injury occurred, it appeared his 2018 season was over. To Kang’s credit, he pushed himself through rehab and was able to earn a promotion to the MLB level for the Pirates’ final series of the season in Cincinnati. During this series, Kang looked like his old self going 2-for-6 at the plate while hitting the ball with authority. The fact he was able to record a pair of hits that weekend after not facing MLB pitching for nearly two full calendar years is pretty remarkable.
While the decision to pick up Kang’s option was likely made before the final weekend of the season, those three games should only further indicate why his option needs picked up. The fact he is such a pure hitter that he could pick up a bat after two years away from the Majors and be successful speaks volumes to his hitting ability.
The main reason the Pirates need to pick up Kang’s option can be widdled down to one word – power. The Bucs have the pitching in place to compete for a postseason berth in 2019, but the team needs more offense and power. Kang can provide that help.
Neal Huntington has already said that if Kang is a Pirate in 2019 it will be solely as a third baseman, so, unfortunately, he can not help the team with their shortstop woes. However, third base is not exactly a position of strength for the Pirates either.
While Colin Moran finished 2018 with a great final six weeks, which you can read about here, he was inconsistent to bad for much of the season. He does not represent the power threat that Kang does, either. Kang’s career .208 ISO, .482 slugging percentage, and 10.9% extra base hit rate all would have been the second highest on the 2018 Pirates behind just Gregory Polanco. The same Polanco who will miss the start of the 2019 season, adding to the reasosn why the team needs to pick up Kang’s option.
If the Pittsburgh Pirates are going to compete for a postseason berth in 2019 they need more power out of their lineup. Jung Ho Kang can provide this power, and this is why the team needs to pick up his option for next season.