PITTSBURGH — Pirates third baseman Jung Ho Kang is expected to begin workouts at Pirate City on Monday as he begins his attempt to return to the Major Leagues after missing all of 2017 and the first month of this season while he was unable to obtain an American visa.
Kang arrived the country on Thursday, and will report to Bradenton, Florida over the weekend for a first day of work on Monday.
He spent most of this winter in the Santiago, Dominican Republic area and shouldn’t come into his training regimen completely out of shape, but he hasn’t had much experience facing live pitching, and what he did get in the Dominican Republic didn’t go particularly well.
With that in mind, the Pirates are planning on a full Spring Training regimen for Kang, which would keep him in Florida for about 45 days. At that point, he could either join the Major League team, or report to an affiliate on an option.
The Pirates can keep Kang on the restricted list, meaning that he won’t take up a 40-man roster spot and he won’t be collecting any salary until they feel he is ready to compete at the Major League level, and there is no specific length of time for that to occur.
Kang will also have to go through a union-mandated treatment program that was focused on his issues with alcohol before he can participate with the Pirates, but he will not be subject to any further discipline by the team or Major League Baseball.
With the Pirates trading for Colin Moran over the offseason, Kang’s spot on the roster has essentially been filled, but general manager Neal Huntington said the team will make a spot on the bench for him if a place to play hasn’t opened organically.
“We’re a long ways away from anybody taking anyone’s job, and we are pleased with the guys we have in house right now,” Huntington said. “Kang is going to have to do a lot more if he gets back to that. If he takes care of what he needs to off the field and can get back to that level, we’ll have an interesting decision to make, and again, I need to make clear, we are very comfortable with Colin Moran and David Freese as our options right now. … We’re currently carrying 13 pitchers and 12 position players. The idea, despite essentially becoming an industry norm, is that we probably will rebalance at some point in time.”
Additionally, Kang is expected to work at other positions during his rehab work. Huntington specifically mentioned shortstop, and it’s reasonable to think second base could be an option, as well.
So Kang will report to Florida, start to work on a typical Spring Training schedule, and he can even participate in the games during extended Spring Training. It won’t be until he’s ready to leave Florida, either for an affiliate or to Pittsburgh, that the Pirates will have to make a roster move in order to accommodate Kang.
It sounds like such a decision point is at least a month and a half away.
Assuming that Kang eventually does rejoin the Pirates’ 40-man roster, he’ll begin to collect on his $3 million contract, which expires at the end of the season. The Pirates hold a $5.5 million option on Kang for 2019, but will not be able to recoup the lost season of control when Kang couldn’t enter the country.