Kang show set to return to PNC Park


Luke Henne, Contributor

After a series of unfortunate and rather hopeless events, South Korean third-baseman Jung-Ho Kang is set to return to the Pittsburgh Pirates after being granted his work visa from the United States government.

Kang, 31, was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates as an international free agent in December 2014, becoming the first player to jump directly from the Korean Baseball Organization to Major League Baseball, as MLB.com’s Adam Berry notes.

In 2015, his rookie season, Kang hit 15 home runs and drove in 58 runs, hitting at a respectable .287 clip. He was awarded the National League Rookie Of The Month in July, and he appeared to be primed towards being a key factor in the Pirates third consecutive trip to the MLB Postseason.

However, during a matinee game on September 17 against the Chicago Cubs, Cubs outfielder Chris Coghlan slid in a rough fashion into Kang, who was playing shortstop and attempting to turn a double-play. Kang tore his left laternal meniscus and broke his left tibia.

Upon initial notice of the injury, many believed that Kang would not be able to return until the end of the 2016 season. However, he defied most expectations and was activated on May 6.

In what was only the Pirates’ 29th game of the season, Kang slugged two home runs and drove in three runs in his return en route to a 4-2 win at Busch Stadium over the St. Louis Cardinals.

In early July of 2016, allegations of rape directed at Kang were made by a woman from Chicago, citing that Kang had assaulted her while the Pirates were in Chicago to play the Cubs from June 17-19. Nothing more came of the allegations.

Jung-Ho finished 2016 with a .255 batting average, 21 home runs, and 62 runs batted in, but the Pirates hit a stretch of eight consecutive losses from late August to early September, causing them to finish the season with a below-average record of 78-84.

On December 2, video surfaced of Kang recklessly driving before crashing into a guard rail in his native South Korea. Kang was charged with driving while under the influence. It was later learned that this had been Kang’s third DUI since 2009, but the Pirates noted they were unaware of this fact before inking Kang to a contract.

Kang’s work visa was suspended by the government, and before recently, he had not been in the United States since the end of the 2016 season. He missed all of the 2017 season, but was given an opportunity in the winter of 2017.

While playing with Aguilas Cibaenas of the Dominican Winter League, Kang posted a miserable .143 batting average with 31 strikeouts in 24 games. It did not take him long to be released, and his professional baseball career seemed to be finished.

However, on April 26, just moments after Pirates left fielder Corey Dickerson hit a walkoff solo homerun to defeat the Detroit Tigers, news surfaced that Kang was granted a work visa by the US government and would report to the Pirates training facility in Florida.

Since Kang has not seen any action aside from his stint in the Dominican Republic, he will need a “rehabilitation” assignment and a pseudo-spring training before he can return to major-league action.

When Kang returns, it is unclear where he will play, but it is believed he will either be put at second base or third base. In his two years before the allegations, Kang primarily played third base, but also saw a fair share of time at shortstop.

Newly-acquired third baseman Colin Moran is solidified as the third baseman of the future, so it appears likely that Kang could be inserted at shortstop and current shortstop Jordy Mercer could be moved to second base, as current second baseman Josh Harrison is out for at least 4-5 more weeks with a broken hand.

Gregory Polanco, the Pirates right fielder, stated, “He’s back? Really? Wow, that’s great news!”

As the Pirates attempt to return to the MLB Postseason after missing out considerably in 2016 and 2017, the return of Kang could be the shot in the arm the franchise needs.