There are 46 days during Spring Training, from the day pitchers and catchers reported, to the final game in Philadelphia. By the looks of things, Clint Hurdle is going to be asked a question about Jung-ho Kang every single one of those days.
A big part of that is due to the expanding media presence from South Korea that are attending Pirates’ camp for one reason — to cover the infielder. But Kang is such an unknown, and such an interesting topic that his transformation to the US is something that everyone is interested in, and not just people from his home country.
As a result of all of these questions, we will most likely hear every single thing the Pirates think about Kang. Some of this will be new information that is a surprise, and some of that will be confirmation of things that were obvious. Today’s bit of news falls into the obvious category.
Most people would have assumed that the Pirates believed Kang could eventually be an everyday player. Hurdle added further confirmation to that belief today.
“We believe we’ve brought a player in that’s going to be an everyday player,” Hurdle said. “When that happens? We don’t know.”
As to when Kang could make that jump, Hurdle mentioned that they have a very good player at shortstop, also highlighting Jordy Mercer’s defense. I wrote on Friday why you shouldn’t expect Kang to steal Mercer’s job, and it was mostly defense-related. Hurdle also mentioned the good options they have at third and second base, referring to Josh Harrison and Neil Walker respectively. Overall, Hurdle said that the Pirates believe they have a good team, and Kang will make them better.
“We’ll see where it goes,” Hurdle said on when Kang could have a chance to start. “Sometimes there’s injuries that happen. We want to prepare him for a starting role. See how the season plays out. See where he can fit, what he can add to, and I think everybody’s vision down the road is for this man to post up and become a regular player in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ lineup, in our organization.”
**On a smaller scale, the Pirates added another interesting guy this off-season in Radhames Liz. The right-handed flame thrower was formerly a top prospect in the Orioles’ system, but never made the successful jump to the majors. He has since pitched in Korea, and spent time in the Dominican Winter League this off-season. His performance there was so good that the Pirates not only signed him, but gave him a guaranteed deal, paying him $1 M. That’s rare, as most players in his situation usually settle for a minor league contract and an invite to Spring Training.
Liz has been a starter in the past, and Hurdle said the team was aware of his ability to start. As to whether he would have a chance to start with the Pirates, Hurdle said that the current plan is to stretch him out.
“Our plans going in are to stretch him out as part of our starting depth group moving forward,” Hurdle said. “We can always back him off.”
There is a disclaimer to this. The Pirates have all of their starting options get to a point where they are throwing three innings or 50 pitches in an outing. At that point, they make a decision on who will continue as a starter, and who will cut back and work as a reliever. Liz will be evaluated as a starter until he reaches that point, and then the Pirates will make a decision on whether they want him as a reliever, or want to continue working him as a starting option. That decision will largely depend on how Liz looks, and whether he can carry over the changes that he displayed in the Dominican, which landed him the guaranteed contract.