The Jung-ho Kang experiment is still largely incomplete. The Korean infielder has 26 at-bats so far through the first month of the season. Up until about a week ago, he had just one hit, and there were questions about whether he should go down to Triple-A for work (although the Pirates haven’t considered this at all). Those questions died down after a few good games, including a three hit game on Wednesday against the Cubs that saw his OPS jump .220 points.
That last fact only highlights how small of a sample size we’re dealing with here. There still isn’t an answer to the question of how he will perform in the majors, which means we don’t have that first hitting comp from the KBO to MLB. But that’s not stopping MLB teams from looking for the sequel to Kang, and that includes the Pirates.
Jee-ho Yoo of Yonhap News Agency reported today that Byung-ho Park is getting attention from MLB teams, including the Pirates. The Pirates, Rangers, Nationals, Orioles, Cubs, and Indians have all been focusing on Park, who is eligible to be posted to MLB after the 2015 season. Technically they’re scouting the entire league, but Park is the big attraction. Park is a first baseman who hit 52 home runs last year, which was 12 more than Kang. He also has some strikeout issues, which was an issue for Kang.
Park will be in his age 29 season next year, which might complicate his jump to the majors. His position might also make things difficult. It’s a bit easier to give Kang a slow transition to the majors, since he can play off the bench at three positions. It’s harder to carry a backup first baseman. Park is right-handed, so he could be used in a platoon role initially, before proving whether he can handle MLB pitching.
The Pirates have no advantage here because of Kang, since they’d have to win the bidding process in order to be able to sign Park. They might have a good shot at winning, since they seem to like Korean players more than other teams. It only took $5,002,015 to land negotiating rights for Kang, which is well short of the $20 M posting fee that top international prospects command.
As for a fit, Pedro Alvarez is the current first baseman, and is under control through the 2016 season. Josh Bell is the first baseman of the future, but is currently in Altoona, and at best would be looking at a debut in mid-2016. If his power doesn’t increase by then, the Pirates could be looking at giving him some extra time to develop. Even with Bell serving as the top prospect at the position, and the first baseman of the future, that shouldn’t stop the Pirates from looking at other reasonable options.
One key factor here is the possibility of the NL adding the DH. After the injury to Adam Wainwright, that is a move that seems almost inevitable. That type of move would make it easier for an NL team to carry a first baseman on the bench, and would also create a situation where the Pirates could sign a first baseman, and not have a roster crunch when Bell arrives.
Of course, all of this is extremely early. Park won’t be posted until the end of the year, at which point we’ll have more information on Alvarez, Bell, and the future at first base. We also will have a better read on how Kang performed in his first season, and if it looks like he could be a starter in the majors. That would make Park more favorable, since Kang would give some sort of KBO to MLB comp. For now what we can take from this is that Park will most likely be posted, and the Pirates are one of the teams that has shown interest.