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Around the Horn: Will Kang consistently man third?

Pirates have Freese as insurance at hot corner if slugger is disciplined, injured
MLB.com

With Spring Training two weeks away, it's time for an in-depth look at the Pirates' 2017 roster. This is the fifth part of an eight-part series checking in on the Bucs' current and future options at each position. Next up: third base.

Big question: What is Jung Ho Kang's status?

With Spring Training two weeks away, it's time for an in-depth look at the Pirates' 2017 roster. This is the fifth part of an eight-part series checking in on the Bucs' current and future options at each position. Next up: third base.

Big question: What is Jung Ho Kang's status?

Kang will be watched closely from the moment he reports to Spring Training. For now, he remains an active member of Pittsburgh's roster.

The Pirates are preparing as if Kang will report to camp like any other player, but general manager Neal Huntington said the Bucs are "still working through the process with Major League Baseball" regarding Kang's availability.

Kang was arrested in December following his third DUI in South Korea. It is unclear how, or if, he will be disciplined by the Pirates or MLB. Kang also is under investigation for an alleged sexual assault in Chicago last summer, but he has not been charged in that case.

The starter: Kang

Assuming Kang is active and healthy, he will start at third base and bat in the heart of the order. He may possess the most power potential on the club, clearly capable of hitting 30-plus homers. If he delivers on that potential for a full season, Kang will provide valuable protection for Andrew McCutchen in the middle of Pittsburgh's lineup.

Video: PIT@STL: Kang clubs three-run homer in the 1st inning

Overall in 2016, Kang enjoyed an even better sophomore season at the plate. He batted .255/.354/.513 with 21 homers and 62 RBIs in 103 games. Kang came off the disabled list in May, started off hot and finished strong after a second trip to the DL in late August. In between those hot streaks, however, was a summer-long slump during which Kang looked nothing like himself.

He also struggled defensively, an unexpected development that could be partially attributed to his surgically repaired knee. An above-average third baseman as a rookie, Kang committed 17 errors and totaled minus-2 Defensive Runs Saved.

Backing up: David Freese

Freese signed a contract extension last August, giving the Pirates a proven insurance policy amid the uncertainty surrounding Kang. The veteran infielder will continue backing up both corners, and he could start at third if Kang is sidelined or occasionally moved over to shortstop.

Video: PIT@PHI: Freese dives twice, gets force at third base

A bargain mid-March signing, Freese was an above-average hitter and defender last season. The former World Series MVP, who instantly bonded with manager Clint Hurdle, also will take on a more prominent leadership role in the clubhouse this year.

Freese was one of Pittsburgh's best hitters for most of 2016, batting .282 with an .810 OPS through Aug. 17, around the time his extension was being finalized. He hit .228 with 42 strikeouts in his final 113 plate appearances, admitting he was "mechanically, a little jacked up."

"Two years ago, I got my power back. Last year, I got my eye back a little bit," Freese said. "This year, hopefully changing a few mental aspects to every AB, put those two things together and keep climbing."

Depth: Adam Frazier, Alen Hanson, Max Moroff, John Jaso, Jason Rogers, Eric Wood

The Pirates shouldn't have to reach beyond Kang and Freese, but their utility infielders -- Frazier, Hanson or Moroff -- could step in if necessary. Rogers has experience at third but no clear role, while Jaso expressed interest in working at third, making him a more versatile corner infielder/outfielder.

Wood, 24, improved as he repeated Double-A last season and hit .249/.339/.443 with 16 homers. After a solid showing in the Arizona Fall League, Wood will be in big league camp as a non-roster invitee.

Next up: Ke'Bryan Hayes

Kang and Freese are under contract for two more years, with affordable club options for 2019, so there is no immediate need at third base. Hayes isn't near the Majors, but he looks like a future big leaguer.

Drafted 32nd overall out of high school in 2015, and now the ninth-best third base prospect according to MLBPipeline.com, Hayes batted .263 with a .711 OPS as a 19-year-old in the Class A South Atlantic League. Keep an eye on his development.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Pittsburgh Pirates, David Freese, Jung Ho Kang