Come November, there will be another option for the Jays at 2B: Jung-Ho Kang.
Kang currently plays shortstop for the Nexen Heroes of the Korea Baseball Championship League (KBC) of the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO). He is expected to be posted this upcoming November. The posting will be done under the old rules – where the team with the highest posting fee gets exclusive rights to negotiate – since the KBO is not a party to the revised 2013 MPB/NPB posting agreement.
Kang is a hitting machine. His 1.189 OPS leads the league, and his 39 HRs are second only to his MVP teammate Park Byung-Ho. And while 2014 is clearly the best year of Kang’s career, his previous years were nothing to sneeze at – he was in the top 10 in league OPS in 2013 and 2012.
Kang is also very durable. The KBC regular season is 128 games (since 2013 – previously 133). Over the last five seasons, Kang has played in more than 95% of his team’s games.
KBC batting stats have to be taken with a grain of salt as big as … Dioner Navarro. The league has been guesstimated to be at a level somewhere between A and AA ball in North America. Well below MLB, and well below the Japanese NPB. To illustrate – the player with the third highest OPS in the KBC in 2014, right behind Kang and Byung-Ho, has 37 HR, is slugging .689 and has an OPS of 1.110. Who is this Ruthian demigod, you ask? Eric Thames.
And Kang’s home field – Mokdong Stadium – is one of the smallest in the KBC with a distance of 322 feet down the right and left field lines and 387 feet to deep centre. By comparison, the equivalent figures in the Rogers Centre are 328 feet and 400 feet.
Kang’s hitting style also raises concerns. He uses an exaggerated leg kick, basically waiting for the pitch on one leg. That works in the KBC, where pitchers generally do not throw at MLB velocities, but it is far from clear that he would be able to catch up with MLB pitching.
On the subject of his defence, one site notes that : Quoting an MLB scout: "I think Kang has a functional arm at SS, but he may be better suited at 3B or RF. He doesn’t have the range to play SS and I don’t think he has the glove to play 3B. He may be able to play RF but that position will require better offensive production. He certainly has the arm to play RF." On the subject of his arm, another writer says, "He loses some zip on his throw from deep in the hole, but such throws are generally sufficient to get slower baserunners out."
As good as Kang has been, he is not expected to command the monster posting fees of a Darvish or a Tanaka. It has been estimated that his fee will be in the $5-15 million range – hopefully well within the Jays’ budget.
One knock against Kang is that Mokdong Stadium is the only stadium in the KBO which uses artificial turf. The transition from artificial turf to natural grass is cited as one of the reasons why defensive studs such as Kaz Matsui and Tsuyoshi Nishioka, among others, struggled with their defense in the MLB. This could make him more attractive to a MLB team with artificial turf
If the above comments on Kang’s defensive skills are correct, and he lacks the range to play at SS, the glove to play 3B and the offensive power to play RF, a good fit might be at 2B. Particularly if one of his greatest weaknesses at SS is making the long throw to first from deep in the hole.
Clearly, King Kang is not going to get 39 HRs in MLB or have an OPS over 1.000. But even at far lower production, he would be a substantial offensive upgrade over the Jays’ current options at 2B. If he really can be won for a posting fee of less than $20 million and a reasonable salary, he may well be worth the gamble.