The Pittsburgh Pirates have agreed to sign Korean shortstop Jung-ho Kang, according to Jim Bowden of ESPN and MLB Network radio. Kang's deal is a four-year pact with an option for a fifth year, Bowden reports, and it is worth about $16 million.
The Pirates reportedly won the bidding for Kang in December, and had a 30 day window to exclusively negotiate with him. Pittsburgh paid Kang's former team, the Nexen Heroes of the Korea Baseball Organization, $5 million for his rights. If Kang did not sign with the club within 30 days, the Pirates would receive their fee back and Kang would go back to Korea.
The 28-year-old Kang was an outstanding performer in the hitter-favoring KBO. Over 501 plate appearances this past season, he slashed .356/.459/.739 with 40 home runs and 117 runs batted in. While these numbers are quite eye-popping, his offensive production in a big league is truly unknown.
An international scouting director told Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors that he feels Kang has above-average raw power. He added that Kang does have good instincts, so he may be able to make the most of his tools. However, the scouting director noted that Kang's raw power is not likely to translate well to the Majors. He compared him to Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima, who signed a two-year contract with the Athletics, but never reached the big leagues. He did note that Kang is the better of the two players.
Defensively, Kang has been noted of having a good arm and good hands, but he is not particularly fast, and with his six-foot, 180 pound build, he may not be able to handle the shortstop position in the Major Leagues. He will also be transitioning from a turf field in Korea to grass in the United States. This could mean that he will have some trouble fielding and will need to work on ground balls.
Overall, Kang is a complete unknown for the Pirates. However, he could be a real find for them. Currently, the Pirates have Jordy Mercer starting at shortstop. It appears that Kang will be given the chance to beat him out for the job in Spring Training, but that is yet to be determined. With Josh Harrison and Neil Walker at third and second base, respectively, it looks as if the Pirates are not expecting a position switch for Kang, or at least quite yet.