Pittsburgh Pirates: Kang Getting It Done


How good are the 2015 Pittsburgh Pirates without Russell Martin, Travis Snyder, Edinson Volquez, and Gaby Sanchez? The Buccos are in second place in the National League’s Central Division chasing the front running St. Louis Cardinals and by consistently putting victories on the board, they have the Cards looking over their shoulders.

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It was thought at the start of the season that slugger Pedro Alvarez would be a difference maker. Instead, “El Toro” has struggled at the plate with an occasional home run blast. Having switched to first base, it was believed Alvarez’s bat would turn around and the position change to first base would permit having Josh Harrison and Alvarez in the lineup. Defensively, the first base experiment with Alvarez has been a disaster.

Among the leaders in errors at first base, the focus has not been on Alvarez but more so on several hot hitting batters like Andrew McCutchen (no surprise there), and new members to the team for 2015 Francisco Cervelli and the Korean-born Jung Ho Kang.

Cervelli took over for Russell Martin and his average has hovered around .300. The bigger surprise might be the player who traveled a long way to wear a Pittsburgh Pirates uniform. That player is the 28-year-old Kang. There were doubts about the former Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) star infielder’s ability to play in Major League Baseball.

The Pittsburgh Pirates ignored all the criticism and reached a contract agreement with Kang in the off-season. Other teams had an interest in signing Kang, but on last December 22, the Pirates landed the prize with a four-year, $11 million deal.

Jung Ho Kang has more than proven any critics wrong with a batting average that has consistently stayed around .290 or better. Kang has added 12 home runs as well as 48 RBIs, 50 runs scored, and five stolen bases. Prior to coming overseas, Kang was last playing for the Nexen Heroes in the KBO. It is there that in 2014 he drew attention from teams in the MLB.

Last year, Kang slugged 40 home runs in just 418 at bats while sporting a .356 average. With 117 runs batted in, Kang had near triple crown-like numbers.

Since 2008, Kang has smacked 149 round-trippers in the KBO while also playing for the Hyundai Unicorns. 2014 was by far his finest season in his home country’s league, and Kang was ready to bring his skills to America.

Perhaps some of the doubt as to whether Kang could translate his abilities to American baseball stemmed from the fact that no player from the Korean Baseball Organization had ever made it to Major League Baseball. Only the Texas Rangers’ Shin-Soo Choo is a product of the KBO but Choo had to come up to the majors via the minor leagues. Kang on the other hand went directly to spring training and to nearly an everyday starter.

For a little history on Jung Ho Kang, he was originally a catcher in high school. He is 6’0″ and 215 pounds. Kang has played in several international tournaments most notably the Asian Junior Baseball Championship in 2005 where he batted .375.

Four years ago while competing in the Asian Games, Jung Ho Kang hit .615 with three home runs and eight RBIs. Last year during the Asian Games, Kang’s average was .454 as he added two round trippers with seven runs batted in.

Looking back at Jung Ho Kang’s KBO career, he was a five-time league all-star and four times won that league’s Golden Glove Award. Now in the major leagues, Kang was the National League’s Rookie of the Month for July. Kang bats and throws right-handed. He was born on April 5, 1987 in Gwangju, South Korea.

For the teams that lost out on the bidding for Jung Ho Kang’s first MLB contract or teams that simply did not have an interest, their loss is the Pittsburgh Pirates’ gain. Kang has been a vital part of Pittsburgh’s 2015 success and he will be fun to watch when he takes part in his first-ever National League playoffs whether it is a wild card game for the Pirates for the third year in a row, or as the Central Division champions.

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