Today it was reported that the Pittsburgh Pirates won the rights to negotiate with the Nexen Heroes’ slugging shortstop Jung-Ho Kang for just over $5M. But, scouts seem split on how much of Kang’s abilities will translate to the Major Leagues.
Here is MLBTradeRumors.com‘s take on Kang:
“Kang, 28 in April, put together an exceptional season in Korea in 2014, .356/.459/.739 with 40 home runs in 117 games between the regular season and the playoffs. Kang’s Heroes reached the Korean Series (KBO’s Championship series) but fell to the Samsung Lions four games to two.
While his numbers are undeniably incredible, it should be noted that KBO is an extremely hitter-friendly environment, somewhat diminishing the impact of those eye-popping numbers. Major League scouts appear genuinely split on whether or not Kang can be an everyday player in the Majors. ESPN’s Keith Law ranked Kang 15th among free agents this offseason, noting that he feels Kang should be given a chance to play shortstop everyday initially, as he could show enough power to handle the position and make up for less-than-stellar defensive tools at the position. However, he did note that some scouts see Kang as an “unathletic corner guy” whose power won’t translate to the Majors.
Recently, Ryan Sadowski of Global Sporting Integration appeared with Jeff Todd on the MLBTR Podcast and discussed Kang in detail. Sadowski, a former MLB and KBO pitcher, has seen Kang play extensively.
Kang is reportedly seeking $5-6MM annually on a multi-year deal, which isn’t an exorbitant price but also would be a costly miss for a payroll-conscious club like the Pirates in the event that Kang cannot be a productive player in the bigs.
The Pirates have plenty of infield depth as is, with Neil Walker entrenched at second base and Josh Harrison set to man third base in 2015 and beyond. Jordy Mercer played a solid shortstop in 2014, but he seems the most likely to be displaced if Kang is signed and the looks the part of an everyday shortstop. Then again, the Bucs may simply prefer to rotate Kang between three infield spots or shift Mercer to a utility role. There’s certainly room for all four infielders to remain on the roster.”
So, is Kang a future everyday shortstop, or is he an overrated player who has been helped by a hitter-friendly Korean Baseball Organization? Let’s turn to OOTP15 to see what Kang looks like:
In the KBO, Kang is rated as a solid 62 (out of 80). Notice the contact ratings (potential 55) as well as the home run power ratings (65 – above average).
But when comparing to the rest of the MLB, Kang is rated a much more average 47. Here, his contact ratings are a 40 max, well below the 55 potential we see in the KBO. Even though his power ratings remain high, with such a low contact rating, it is hard for those power numbers to really materialize. His inability to avoid K’s wont improve either.
Are the Pirates making the right call in chasing Kang? Let’s compare him to their current SS, Jordy Mercer. Below are Jordy’s OOTP15 ratings. We see an equal 47 overall rating, but significantly higher contact ratings and much better avoid K ratings. I agree with MLBTradeRumors thoughts that Kang can be shuffled around the 3 infield positions if he doesn’t show himself to be a competent everyday SS. And if he does, then Jordy can become the utility man, able to fill in at 3B, SS and 2B.
Kang Jung-Ho is a South Korean shortstop for the Nexen Heroes in the Korea Baseball Organization. He bats and throws right-handed. (Wikipedia)