Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Jung Ho Kang (27) fields a ground ball against the Washington Nationals during the first inning at PNC Park.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Column: Rushing Kang Back Could be a Mistake

Pirates have to weigh the risk

Josh Rowntree
June 21, 2018 - 12:14 am

While the Pirates offense could use a shot of life, Jung Ho Kang may not necessarily be the best option. At least not right now. 

Before reporting left wrist discomfort Wednesday, Kang had begun to step up his production at the plate for AAA Indianapolis. 

Kang has six hits in his last eleven at-bats and is coming off a three RBI performance Tuesday. 

But Kang hasn’t swung a bat in a Pirates uniform since October 2, 2016. He has only 50 at-bats in the minors this year. And there’s the question of where you put him.

Kang has been playing shortstop and his more familiar third base in the minors, while also being used as a designated hitter at times. 

There’s no chance Clint Hurdle significantly cuts down Jordy Mercer’s time at short. On top of his defensive abilities, Mercer has been among Pittsburgh’s best hitters of late, batting .304 in June. 

Colin Moran’s hot April has been followed by a lukewarm May and June. Moran is struggling against left-handed pitching, batting .208. But Kang, in his career, has only hit .225 against lefties. So a straight platoon at third base may not be successful. 

The Pirates, believe it or not, are still in the division and NL wild card race and can’t afford to take players like Mercer or Moran out of the lineup to simply break in Kang. They must be absolutely sure he’ll have a shot to produce right away.

Keeping Kang on the bench as a pinch hitter could hinder his acclimation back to the majors. At this point, the more reps he can get the better. 

When healthy, Kang’s bat is intriguing. But, until an injury arrises, he needs to be playing every day. And the only place that will happen is in Indianapolis. 

Ultimately the decision may come down to money. Kang is making $3 million this season and has a $5.5 million club option for next year. He’s 31 years old. 

The Pirates need to figure out what they have with Kang before it’s too late. But a little more time might be better in the long run.