Kang heading to Pittsburgh for physical this week
Korean shortstop, Pirates on verge of completing historic deal
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Three weeks ago, when the Pirates' high bid for negotiating rights to Jung-ho Kang was accepted by his Korean Baseball Organization team, many weren't sure what to make of it. First, the Pirates would have to sign the Korean All-Star and then figure out just what they had on their hands.
That process may begin in earnest this week. According to a post on the website of Kang's team, the Nexen Heroes, he is booked on a Wednesday flight to Pittsburgh and will undergo a physical on Thursday. If that goes well, the Heroes will keep the $5,002,015 bid and the Bucs will keep Kang; he would formally sign a contract believed to be for four years and head to Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla. It is there that the fun will begin.
MLB clubs that had scouted Kang -- the Bucs were not one of them -- passed, as did teams that clearly had a need for a shortstop, Kang's primary position. Then, gradually, videos of Kang in action, eyewitness accounts and scouting reports of talent evaluators began to surface. And interest in Kang began to ramp up. It figures to bloom into a full-fledged phenomenon by the time Kang makes his first appearance in a Pirates uniform -- which could be only days away based on Monday's development.
In baseball's shrinking world, few frontiers remain. The Pirates and Kang could be on the verge of throwing open one of the few: He would become the first position player to transition from KBO to MLB.
Pitchers have successfully made the crossing, starting with Chan Ho Park, continuing with Byung-Hyun Kim and leading now to the Dodgers' Hyun-jin Ryu. Two Korean hitters have also made their marks: Hee-Seop Choi (2002-05) and current Texas outfielder Shin-Soo Choo.
However, Choi and Choo both were signed out of high school and began their pro careers here. Kang is a multiple KBO All-Star and reigning Most Valuable Player. He does have something in common with Choi: They both attended the Korean prep powerhouse Gwangju High School, as did Kim.
Soon, the eye test will begin. At the moment, however, projections for Kang are remarkably disparate beyond agreement that the 6-foot-2, 180-pounder has brute raw power -- 40 homers in 2014 and 87 the last three seasons -- and a strong arm.
The international scouting director for an MLB team discounted those KBO numbers to MLB Trade Rumors by placing that league's pitching at Double-A level.
According to a Major League scout, Kang "doesn't have the range to play short and I don't think he has the glove to play third."
Yet two respected analysts who base their rankings on the consensus of scouts -- ESPN's Keith Law and Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan -- in November ranked Kang No. 15 and No. 33, respectively, among all of this winter's free agents.
At the Pirate City site of ongoing voluntary workouts, general manager Neal Huntington would not directly address reports of a done deal with Kang.
"We do like the player," Huntington said, "and hope to be able to add him to our existing club and help him become a good Major League player."
Where that might be is anybody's guess -- including right now that of the Pirates, until they see him in action. The Bucs have a set infield -- around the horn, Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer, Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez -- but Kang will give them both flexibility and options.
The flexibility might be more immediately useful. Able to handle any infield position, Kang is very likely to get MLB acclimation by starting the season as a revolving super sub.
In time, the options could become more valuable. Walker, expected to soon agree to a healthy raise over his '14 salary of $5.75 million in the third of his four years of arbitration-eligibility, may have to be dealt if he and the club don't agree on a long-term extension. Harrison and Mercer have to show their breakthrough seasons were not flukes. Kang could be a fallback at all three spots.
"I know that the thought going in was that, if we were able to acquire Jung-ho, it would be to add quality to our team in a number of different ways," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We'll see how it plays out."
Fans of two countries will also be watching eagerly.