Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang has received a work visa and is expected to resume his career with the team, according to a report from Rob Biertempfel of The Athletic. Kang had not been able to secure a visa for quite some time after being convicted of a DUI in his native South Korea.
Kang ended up missing the entire 2017 season. He did play briefly in the Dominican Winter League recently, but that stint was cut short when he failed to perform with his new team. The Bucs control him for the 2019 season via club option, valued at $5.5MM, and he’ll play the remainder of the 2018 season on a pro-rated $3MM salary. While there was some question as to how the Pirates would handle the situation if Kang were to receive a visa, it appears as though the team is willing to welcome him back into the fold without issuing any discipline of its own.
“We are encouraged by the steps that Jung Ho has taken to date and are hopeful that having the game he loves taken away from him for more than a year has driven home the reality that he must make better life decisions as we move forward together,” Pirates president Frank Coonelly said in a statement issued via press release. “As we have communicated to him throughout this process, we will work to provide Jung Ho with the resources and support necessary for him to meet the high expectations that we have for him as a member of our organization and our community.”
For the time being, Kang will remain on the restricted list as he works his way toward MLB readiness with in extended Spring Training at the Pirates’ complex in Bradenton, Fla. There’s no indication from the team as to how long he’ll spend ramping up in Florida.
A healthy and effective Kang would be an unexpected boost to the Pirates, as the former KBO superstar was quite productive in his first two big league campaigns prior to his legal troubles. In 837 MLB plate appearances, Kang has slashed .273/.355/.483 with 36 homers, 43 doubles and a pair of triples. He’ll give the Pirates an option at multiple infield positions, as he’s seen action third base and shortstop in his two seasons and can also be entrusted to handle second base duties.