The Pirates are set to send Jung Ho Kang out on a minor league assignment as he builds up for an eventual return to their big league roster, tweets Adam Berry of MLB.com. Kang will initially be assigned to Class-A Advanced Bradenton.
Kang is currently on the restricted list after missing the 2017 season and the entirety of the 2018 season, to date, after being charged with his third DUI in his native South Korea in the 2016-17 offseason. Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote earlier this month that Kang can remain there until he’s deemed ready to rejoin the big league roster, so Kang won’t be paid or accumulate any MLB service time until he’s actually ready to return to the Major League roster.
That outcome, of course, doesn’t appear to be a given. Kang played poorly in the Dominican Winter League this offseason, hitting just .143/.219/.202 with 31 strikeouts in 96 plate appearances before being cut loose by his club. The Pirates aren’t under any obligation to actually bring Kang back to the roster if his performance doesn’t merit that promotion, and GM Neal Huntington suggested in a radio appearance late last month that this Kang’s last chance with the organization.
The 29-26 Pirates are currently six games out of first place behind the surging Brewers in the NL Central but just two games back of a Wild Card spot, so it seems they’ll look to see whether Kang is capable of returning to the form he showed in 2015-16 when he hit .273/.355/.483 with 36 homers in 837 plate appearances. He’ll earn the pro-rated portion of this season’s $3MM salary for any time spent on the team’s active roster, though Huntington’s comments from April cast some doubt as to whether the organization would consider exercising next year’s $5.5MM option, barring a highly productive finish to the 2018 season.