Morning Report: What Should the Pirates Do When Jung Ho Kang Returns?

I didn’t think Jung Ho Kang would ever play baseball in the US again. Yet here we are, on the verge of Kang making his way back to the majors, possibly in the next few weeks. He’s expected to make the jump to Indianapolis soon, which will be a real test on how he’s doing in his return. That will eventually be followed by the jump to the majors.

The question after that is what happens to the major league roster when he arrives?

The Pirates were criticized in 2017 for not moving on and finding a third base replacement for Kang the moment his visa issues popped up. In a stroke of irony, they added Colin Moran in the Gerrit Cole trade to be their long-term third baseman, just months before Kang was able to return to the US.

The result? They have their third base replacement for Kang, and they have Kang back as well.

Moran is hitting for a .277/.359/.422 line in the majors this year. That’s nothing like what Kang did when he was in the majors, but it’s not bad. He’s also been improving lately, and it’s important to remember that he’s still a young player adjusting to the majors in his first full season, so expecting him to be at his best through two months is expecting too much.

I don’t think Kang will replace Moran as the starter. That should be evident by his usage in Bradenton. He has started two games at third base and four at shortstop.

So could he replace Jordy Mercer?

Mercer has a .250/.312/.378 line, and if you’re going to replace someone’s bat in the lineup, you’d choose Mercer’s over Moran’s. For a few years, Mercer’s defense carried his value, and provided an argument that Kang shouldn’t be handling the shortstop position due to the downgrade the Pirates would see on the field. But Mercer currently has a -7 DRS, a -1.1 UZR/150, and a -6 plus/minus. Those all rank near the bottom among MLB shortstops, with the UZR being the best number and ranking middle of the pack.

The best approach might be to have Kang replace Mercer, and with Mercer only under team control through the end of the season, that wouldn’t impact the future like it would if Moran was replaced.

But then there’s the question of whether Kang should just enter the majors in a starting role, or work his way into a spot. I think the latter approach would be better, due to his time away from the game. Get a few starts per week at third or shortstop, and transition into a bigger role if things go well.

That would have Kang replacing one of the current bench players. Considering all of the infield options, I’d say Sean Rodriguez would be the best option to go. Rodriguez is more of a super utility guy, but the Pirates have Adam Frazier in that role as well, and Frazier has been better than Rodriguez.

We’ll probably see how this all plays out sooner than later, especially if Kang performs well in Indianapolis. The best approach appears to be easing Kang back in with some starts at short or third, and working to transition him into replacing Mercer at shortstop.

PLAYOFF PUSH

Bradenton is in third place in their division, 4.5 games behind the leader with eight games remaining in the first half.

West Virginia is in fourth place in their division, 4.5 games behind the leader with eight games remaining in the first half.

TODAY’S SCHEDULE

Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates lost 2-0 to the Chicago Cubs on Saturday afternoon. The Pirates will send Ivan Nova to the mound for his 12th start. He allowed four runs over 5.1 innings against the Cincinnati Reds in his last start back on May 24th. The Cubs will counter with right-hander Kyle Hendricks, who has a 3.59 ERA in 72.2 innings, with 57 strikeouts and a 1.10 WHIP. He gave up two runs over five innings against the Pirates on May 30th.

The minor league schedule includes the third starts for Brandon Waddell and Eduardo Vera with their new teams. Waddell struggled in his first game, then came back with a strong outing consisting of 5.2 shutout innings. Vera has gone seven inning in both of his starts with Altoona, allowing a total of three earned runs. Mike Wallace gets his third start for Bradenton. He has also pitched ten times in relief. Just so everything is equal, Max Kranick is making his third start for West Virginia. He had two strong outings before running into trouble in his last game. Both DSL teams are off today.

 

MLB: Pittsburgh (31-33) @ Cubs (37-24) 2:20 PM
Probable starter: Ivan Nova (4.96 ERA, 47:10 SO/BB, 61.2 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (32-27) @ Pawtucket (27-32) 1:35 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Brandon Waddell (6.14 ERA, 5:6 SO/BB, 7.1 IP)

AA: Altoona (29-28) vs Hartford (29-32) 2:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Eduardo Vera (1.93 ERA, 8:1 SO/BB, 14.0 IP)

High-A: Bradenton (31-26) @ Tampa (33-29) 1:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Mike Wallace (5.10 ERA, 26:4 SO/BB, 30.0 IP)

Low-A: West Virginia (31-27) @ Hickory (24-34) 3:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Max Kranick (5.28 ERA, 11:5 SO/BB, 15.1 IP)

DSL: Pirates1 (3-4) vs Red Sox2 10:30 AM 6/11 (season preview)

DSL: Pirates2 (1-6) vs Royals2 10:30 AM 6/11 (season preview)

HIGHLIGHTS

From Friday night, homers by Max Moroff and Jason Martin

Martin’s homer

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

6/9: Jackson Williams added to Indianapolis roster.

6/8: Richard Rodriguez placed on disabled list. Pirates recall Dovydas Neverauskas.

6/8: Mason Martin assigned to Bristol. Jesse Medrano assigned to West Virginia.

6/6: Samuel Reyes added to West Virginia roster. Evan Piechota promoted to Bradenton.

6/6: Eric Wood placed on disabled list. Jerrick Suiter added to Indianapolis roster.

6/6: Cam Vieaux promoted to Altoona. Jake Brentz assigned to Bradenton.

6/6: Oddy Nunez  placed on disabled list.

6/5: Yoel Gonzalez released.

6/5: John Bormann added to West Virginia roster.

6/4: Pirates released Andrew Walker and Linse Carvajal.

6/3: Cam Vieaux promoted to Altoona. Garrett Brown added to Bradenton roster.

6/3: Austin Coley placed on disabled list.

6/2: Tyler Gaffney promoted to Altoona. Mitchell Tolman assigned to Bradenton.

6/2: Reymundo Pena released.

6/1: Jung Ho Kang assigned to Bradenton

6/1: Montana DuRapau assigned to Altoona. Elvis Escobar placed on disabled list.

THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY

Six former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus a trade of note. On this date in 1969, the Pirates traded pitcher Ron Kline to the San Francisco Giants to reacquire pitcher Joe Gibbon. The Pirates got the best of this exchange of bullpen arms, getting 1 1/2 years from Gibbon, including a solid 1969 season. Kline pitched just seven games for the Giants.

Here’s a rundown of the former players born on this date:

Carlos Rivera, first baseman for the 2003-04 Pirates. He played pro ball for 20 season, last appearing in the Mexican League in 2015.

Pokey Reese, second baseman during the 2002-03 season. Won two Gold Gloves with Reds before joining Pirates. Hit .254 in 156 games in Pittsburgh.

Hank Foiles, catcher from 1956 until 1959. Came to the Pirates from the Cubs in the Ralph Kiner deal.

Johnny Podgajny pitcher during the 1943 season. He was traded to the Cardinals for pitcher Preacher Roe.

Danny MacFayden, 1940 pitcher. Went 132-159 over a 17-year career in the majors.

Jap Barbeau, 1909 third baseman, who was dealt during the season, missing out on the first World Series title in franchise history.

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