Posted on February 14, 2017 by Bryan Zarpentine
Amidst legal troubles in his homeland of South Korea stemming from an arrest earlier this offseason, Jung Ho Kang will not report to spring training with the Pittsburgh Pirates on time. Pittsburgh’s position players are set to report on Friday, but Kang will not be among them. He remains in Korea awaiting the start of his trial on February 22. Kang was arrested for driving under the influence and fleeing the scene of a crash in early December.
“Based on our current information, Jung Ho will not be in a position to report to camp by the 17th,” Pirates president Frank Coonelly said in a press release Tuesday. “According to our communications with his representatives, it is probable that he will have a trial in Korea on the DUI-related charges on February 22. It is not known how long the trial will last or when any sentencing phase that might be necessary would be scheduled.
“We will continue to do whatever we can to assist he and his representatives in their efforts to resolve all necessary matters so that Jung Ho will be able to travel to the United States to prepare for and to play in the 2017 season, but his reporting date remains undetermined.”
Earlier this month, Kang agreed to participate in an alcohol treatment program, based on a recommendation by an MLB Treatment Board. His participation in that program could help to curb any punishment Kang receives from the commissioner’s office.
However, it’s unclear what kind of punishment he’ll face from the Korean legal system, especially since his December arrest was his third such arrest since 2009. The Pirates say they were unaware of the first two when they signed him prior to the 2014 season. His latest DUI arrest and any punishment he receives in Korea could also create visa issues for Kang when he ultimately returns to the Pirates.
“Once he’s able to go through that process, we’ll be as supportive as we can, make sure we do everything in our power to help him make better decisions as we go forward and be the player we think he’s capable of being and that we’ve seen him be,” Pirates GM Neal Huntington said Tuesday. “When and if we’re able to get him in here, he’s going to help us and we’re going to help him. It’s out of our control right now.”
The Pirates are counting on Kang to be their primary third baseman in 2017. Despite two separate stints on the DL, Kang contributed 21 home runs and 62 RBIs while posting an OPS of .867 last season. If he can’t make it to spring training in time to be ready for the start of the regular season, it would be a significant loss for the Pirates. However, Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle is confident the Pirates have the depth to survive without Kang if they have to.
“We’ve got options. We’ve got depth,” Hurdle said Tuesday. “We’ve got 62 men in camp right now who we’re going to get ready for a Major League camp. When Jung Ho gets here, he’ll be one of them. However, we’ve got guys who live up to our next-man-up mentality like we’ve been able to do in the past.”
David Freese would presumably step in for Kang, with utility man Adam Frazier and the newly acquired Phil Gosselin also options at the hot corner. But Kang was arguably Pittsburgh’s most productive hitter last season, and losing him for any period of time during the regular season would be a huge blow for a Pirates team hoping to rebound from a disappointing 78-win season in 2016.