Jung Ho Kang is making MLB history this season as the first position player to come into Major League Baseball through the Korean Baseball Organization.
Texas Ranger outfielder Shin-Soo Choo is also from South Korea. But he was signed as an amateur and developed in the MLB system.
Kang, who turned 28 on Easter Sunday, was born in South Korea, and signed to an $11 million, four-year contract in December. The Pittsbugh Pirates outbid other teams to win Kang. The big question is whether the Korean league has prepared him for what he’ll see at the major league level.
Kang hit 40 home runs last year with the Nexen Heroes, and amassed 139 home runs in nine years with Nexen and the Hyundai Unicorns. During spring training, he flashed that power immediately, hitting a homerun in his first at-bat in spring training for Pittsburgh.
But the 6-foot, 205-pound Kang cooled off quickly, hitting for a low batting average and striking out frequently. Kang avoided being sent down to the minors to begin the season, but he won’t be in the starting lineup as the season begins for the Pirates.
Still, that doesn’t mean the Pirates have soured on Kang.
“We have every intent in the world of him helping us winning games at the Major League level beginning Opening Day,” said Pirate General Manager Neal Huntington in the Pirates Prospect blog. “We like the bat speed. We love the power. We like what he’s been able to do defensively at short, at third, at second.”