BRADENTON, Fl. – Towards the end of practice today, I was camped out with the other media near the clubhouse, waiting for Clint Hurdle’s daily press conference. The last round of batting practice was taking place, and the press conference location is just beyond the left field fence on the Roberto Clemente field. It was a normal end of the day, until…
A home run ball clanged off the metal roof just a few feet above us, about 15 feet beyond the high chain link fence. We looked at home plate to see who hit the shot that almost hit us, and saw it was Jung-ho Kang.
Maybe it was intentional, due to all of the questions this Spring about his progress and whether he’d be ready for Opening Day. But that’s probably not the case. The reality is that it’s just another good showing for Kang, who has looked like he’s ahead of schedule ever since the start of camp. He’s still not taking swings off velocity, running the bases, or doing game-speed work at third base. But he’s doing everything else.
Kang looks like he’s going to be ready for Opening Day, or at the least, ahead of schedule to where he’ll return not long after Opening Day. But despite how good he looks, no one from the Pirates, or Kang himself, will admit that he’s going to be ready for the opener, or even ahead of schedule.
That was until this afternoon, when Clint Hurdle talked about his progress.
“We expect him to be a really good player for us when he gets back healthy,” Hurdle said. “He was doing really well. Had another really good day yesterday all over the park. He’s ahead of the schedule that we had set out. He has tremendous determination to pull through this and be, as he says, bigger, better, and stronger than he was last year.”
The original schedule was six to eight months, which could have put Kang back in the middle of May at the latest. What Hurdle said today was widely speculated, so it’s not a huge surprise. But it’s a great thing to hear from a team official, as this increases the chances that Kang will be ready for Opening Day, or at least be back shortly after the start of the season. That would be a nice boost for the Pirates if it happened.
Jaso Didn’t Have to Play Defense
John Jaso is a great hitter who does an outstanding job getting on base, and is one of the best in the game against right-handed pitching. The offense this year won’t be a challenge. The big challenge will be his work learning first base. But that’s a challenge Jaso didn’t need to take, as he had similar offers to what the Pirates gave him, only to just be a designated hitter.
“I go back to the point in our conversations with him early, he could have signed with a couple teams for a couple years for the same money, to go hit,” Hurdle said. “Don’t worry about the defense. Go hit. Be comfortable. He didn’t want any part of it. Wants to play defense, wants to be in games. For me, we’ll see where it goes. But when there’s want to, deep down inside a guy like that, I’ve always talked about trying to bring in men with hunger and an edge. He’s got both of them, and I’m a big believer that can lead to some pretty cool things.”
The work so far has looked rough, as you’d expect from a guy learning a new position. Hurdle said that they’ll get the real test once the games start.
“It’s early. These are drills. He’s doing the things we’re asking him to do,” Hurdle said. “They’re poring in to this side work we have him doing, him and Rogers, where we take him from the fields and put those two guys specifically in some situations with Kevin Young over there. The games are going to give us a much clearer perspective of how that’s working out. Right now, everything seems to be working in good form.”
As I wrote today, Jaso will get a lot of work at the position in Spring Training games, which means the Pirates will have to send their other first base options to minor league camp, in order to get their work in at the position.
**Clint Hurdle announced the pitchers for the first two games of Spring Training. On Tuesday, Kyle Lobstein will get the start and will go two innings. He will be followed by Wilfredo Boscan for two innings, then Neftali Feliz, Curtis Partch, Rob Scahill, and Trey Haley for one each.
On Wednesday, Jeff Locke will get the start and go two innings, followed by Juan Nicasio for two innings. Jared Hughes, Arquimedes Caminero, Eric O’Flaherty, and Jorge Rondon will all follow with an inning each.
**Hurdle said that the plan for Sean Rodriguez this year is to get him involved in their overall team defense, which based on his comments earlier in Spring will also include the outfield. Hurdle also said that the Pirates feel there is more offense than Rodriguez put up last year.