After the news yesterday that the Pittsburgh Pirates won the bidding for the exclusive negotiation rights for Jung-Ho Kang, a thought went through my mind: I’m glad I don’t have to figure out where he fits in the 2015 Prospect Guide. The book went to publishing a week before the news was announced, and was released on Friday.
Technically, Kang is prospect eligible. He doesn’t have 130 at-bats in the majors, which is the eligibility cutoff we use for hitters. And technically, he isn’t even a member of the Pirates. He still needs to sign with them, and they have 30 days from yesterday to reach a deal. I think he will end up signing. As for where he would have ended up in the book, that’s much less clear.
On the surface, Kang’s circumstance is no different than any other prospect. He has stats in another league, and the question is how those stats could translate over to the majors. The difference is that if Gregory Polanco dominates Triple-A, we have a good idea of how that could translate to the majors. We have no clue how KBO stats will translate. We know that players who have struggled in the majors have gone to the KBO to put up All-Star numbers. But that’s not to say that anyone putting up strong numbers in the KBO is the next Felix Pie in the majors.
Felix Pie hit .326/.373/.524 with 19 homers in Korea this year, just for reference sake. Hit 17 homers over his 6 MLB seasons
— John Dreker (@JohnDreker) December 22, 2014
Like I said, I’m glad I didn’t have to figure out where Kang fit into the rankings. It was hard enough figuring out where John Holdzkom would fit, and he was a guy who actually had a limited amount of success in the majors, along with dominant numbers in Triple-A.
And almost immediately after thinking that it was great not having to wonder where Kang fit in the rankings, I had another thought: Where would Kang fit in the rankings?
The rankings in the book aren’t my own. They’re made up of grades and adjustments by myself, John Dreker, and Wilber Miller, with help from Ryan Palencer and Pete Ellis. John and Wilbur are the only two, aside from myself, who grade everyone in the system, since they both follow and write about the minor league system on a daily basis throughout the season. Any estimation of where Kang would end up would require at least their input. So I asked each of them where they would rank him in the current rankings.
I’m not going to give much away about the book here. I’d still like you to buy it, if you haven’t, so I’m not going to give a ton of details on the book or the order of the rankings (especially since the top 20 is basically the bulk of the site content in January, allowing me to take some time off before the season starts back up). If you have the book, then you know the order.
Both John and Wilbur had him just outside of the top ten prospects in the system, right around spot 11. I would have to agree with that range. Keep in mind that the Pirates have a top farm system, so having Kang at 11 could equate to the middle of the top ten in some systems, and the top half of the top ten in the weakest systems.
Almost every prospect ranking this year is going to have a top seven list that includes Josh Bell, Tyler Glasnow, Alen Hanson, Nick Kingham, Reese McGuire, Austin Meadows, and Jameson Taillon in some order or another. The next tier of players beyond those guys is where I’d put Kang. He’s a guy who could be an impact starter, but the odds seem small on that one. If he had a good chance of being an impact player in the majors, he’d be with that group listed above.
I do think Kang has a good chance to provide value in the majors as a bench player, and while the chances of being an impact starter seem small, he could have enough to be an average starter in the majors. That seems like the conservative projection to make. And then there’s the additional potential, which could take Kang beyond “average starter” status.
Let’s put it this way. I’d have Kang in the same talent tier as Elias Diaz. And I think a very broad comparison between the two players works. I’ve always had Diaz as a potential backup option, who could become a starter candidate if he learns how to hit. That happened last year, but in a small sample size, and it’s unknown how the bat will translate to the majors. So you’ve got a guy who has a good chance to be a backup, a decent chance to be an average starter, and a small chance to be above-average or better, if he can find a way to carry his 2014 success from the minors to the majors. It’s similar with Kang, with the main difference being that he needs to carry his numbers from the KBO, rather than Double-A and Triple-A.
Unfortunately, we don’t know how those numbers translate, since Kang will be the first position player to make that jump from the KBO to MLB. Because of that, I would take a slightly more conservative view with Kang than I would with someone like Diaz who has similar questions about the range of his upside.
Links and Notes
**Unless there is any news tomorrow, I probably won’t have an article until after Christmas. I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas!
**You can order the 2015 Prospect Guide here, in both paperback and eBook form. Today I posted a preview of the Guide, with a look at Josh Bell’s future.
**Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post Dispatch writes that the Pirates out-bid the Cardinals for Jung-Ho Kang.