By: Noah Wright
Infielder Jung Ho Kang is definitely the most interesting figure on the Pirates roster this year. The slugger had missed all of 2017 and nearly all of 2018 after not being granted a work visa from South Korea. This is after a third DUI incident over in Asia.
However, he’s back in the United States. After signing a one year deal with the Bucs, he’ll break camp with the MLB team. This spring, he was showed immense power. 7 of his 10 hits have been long balls. His impressive power performance has landed him the job at third base. Afterall, the lineup did need more power.
The question now is if Kang can keep up good production all year. I mean, this will be his first full MLB season since 2015. He missed part of 2016 rehabbing from a rough slide by Chris Coghlan that landed Kang on the DL for quite some time. Plus, he had other off field issues when a woman accused him of sexual assault. Though the charges were dropped, it’s still been a rough stretch for the former Korean star.
I want to first look at the best case scenario for Kang. Before his run-in’s with the law, Kang was a pretty large part of the Bucs’ line up. Between 2015 and 2016, Kang cranked 36 home runs in 837 plate appearances. He had also turned in a solid .273/.355/.483 line in that two year span. Kang had solid numbers at third base as well. Though he ranked negatively in UZR, he does have positive 3 DRS throughout his career at the hot corner. Plus, he saw a game at shortstop this spring, so in the event he needs to play short, he will. In the best case scenario, I think this is about what you could expect from Jung Ho Kang, but with more power. Overall, he could be a solid .270/.350/.500 hitter with 25-30 home runs with plus defense at the hot corner.
The worst case scenario, in my opinion, isn’t that bad. I think he’d be more of what we have seen this spring. Mainly a power hitter. Like stated earlier, all but 3 of his hits this spring haven’t been home runs. We might see a huge jump in power, but also a fall in contact ability. Though I don’t feel we’d see a drop in defensive ability.
As of now, I don’t think Kang will turn into a .230/.300/.550 hitter with 35 home runs. The chances he bounces back are higher than not. Plus, the Pirates need him to bounce back. He returning to a solid bat will be a big positive for the team. They need a bat that can keep up good production throughout the season. I’m going to project he hits closer to my first prediction: .270/.350/.500 with 25-30 home runs in a full season’s worth of plate appearances, and solid hot corner defense.