The Pirates announced Friday that they’ve reinstated infielder Jung Ho Kang from the restricted list and optioned him to Triple-A Indianapolis. While he won’t be with the big league club for the time being, Kang is now back on the 40-man roster (which is full) and will once again begin earning the pro-rated portion of this year’s $3MM salary. Through season’s end, that will afford him approximately $1.73MM.
Kang, 31, didn’t play in the Majors last year or for the first two and a half months of the 2018 season due to legal troubles in his native South Korea. The former Nexen Heroes star was arrested and charged with his third DUI during the 2016-17 offseason, which left him unable to secure a work visa and forced him to miss the entire 2017 season. He secured a visa to return to the Majors last month and has been on the Pirates’ restricted list while working out at their Spring Training facility and, eventually, playing games at the minor league level.
Kang performed terribly in the Dominican Winter League this offseason, to the point where he was released by his club, but he looked better in a seven-game stint with Class-A Advanced Bradenton upon returning to the Pirates organization. Kang hit .417/.531/.875 with three homers in 32 plate appearances against High-A pitching before going 1-for-15 in a four-game stretch at Indianapolis prior to his reinstatement. He’ll continue trying to round into form there, hoping for an eventual return to Pittsburgh.
That, of course, is hardly a given. GM Neal Huntington suggested in an April radio appearance that this Kang’s last chance with the organization. He’ll likely need to produce at the Triple-A level before he’s even considered an option, though for all of his considerable off-field issues, a healthy Kang would admittedly give the Pirates a potent bat to plug back into their lineup. In his first two seasons at the big league level (2015-16), Kang batted .273/.355/.483 with 36 homers in 837 plate appearances.