Starter: Jung-Ho Kang
Backup: David Freese
Obviously this is Jung-Ho Kang’s position once he comes back from injury. From what I’ve read, he’ll start the season on the disabled list and likely make his return in late April or early May. Considering the extent of Kang’s injury, it would not be surprising if he got off to a sluggish start once he comes back.
Kang really came on in the middle-to-latter stages of last season, which made his injury by way of takeout slide/UFC sweep kick even more of a shame. Jung-Ho had become a regular in the middle of the Pirates’ lineup, with an on-base percentage of .355 and a .344 batting average on balls in play. Hell, he had played his way into rookie of the year consideration.
Still, it was an adjustment in the first few months of Kang’s major league career, consider this another speed bump. Fangraphs predicts a steep drop-off in his batting average to .257, but I’m not that pessimistic. It’s easy to forget that Kang is also an excellent fielder at third base.
The Pirates had a big hole at third until they signed David Freeze last week to take some reps until Kang gets back from injury. Freeze is a solid .250-.260 hitter at this point in his career and an average fielder. The former Cardinal also has the potential to play first base once Kang returns, which could be immensely valuable if either of the Morse-Jaso duo doesn’t work out.
Major props to the Neal Huntington, who signed Freeze for a very affordable $3 million over one year. For all the pick-ups Pirates management has been criticized for not making, this is one that should (and will, given time) be universally praised.