Jung Ho Kang offered an apology Friday and soon will report to Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla., but the South Korean infielder is “a long ways away” from coming back to the major leagues, general manager Neal Huntington said.
The Pirates announced a day earlier that Kang received a long-awaited work visa to re-enter to the United States and rejoin the organization after more than a year away after his third DUI conviction. Huntington suggested Friday that Kang could need an adjustment period similar to the length of spring training.
Kang, 31, is scheduled to start working Monday with Pirates staff.
“He has a lot of work to do,” Huntington said. “He’s paid a heavy price for the things he’s done. He’s working to get back, and he’s grateful for this opportunity, not only from the Pirates but from the fans, from his family for their support, the United States government for allowing him this opportunity again. But there’s a lot of work to do. There’s a lot of work to get back to where he was as a player. More importantly, there’s a lot of work to continue to grow as a person. He’s on the right track.”
After missing all of last season, Kang will not face any additional discipline from Major League Baseball or the Pirates, Huntington said. However, he said Kang will be held to a “pretty strong” treatment program agreed upon by MLB and the players’ association. He said he could not discuss those details.
“After a long, painful process, I am excited to have a chance to return to the game that I have missed so much,” Kang said in a statement. “My focus is first on becoming the best person that I can be. Secondly, I look forward to getting to Pirate City and demonstrating that I am committed to doing whatever I can to get back to Pittsburgh and help the Pirates win. I will not disappoint anyone anymore.”
Kang apologized to his family, friends, teammates, the Pirates organization, fans “and anyone else who has been negatively affected by my regretful actions. I am deeply sorry.” He thanked attorneys Amy Maldonado and Javad Khazaeli as well as his agents for helping him navigate the immigration process and reenter the country.
“Their resilient efforts on my behalf and strong belief in me as a person has helped make this second opportunity possible,” Kang said. “I am forever grateful.”
Huntington said the Pirates played only a “support role” in Kang acquiring the work visa.
Manager Clint Hurdle said he hadn’t yet talked with Kang, wanting to give him time to settle in.
“I’m excited to see what he can do with the opportunity,” Hurdle said. “Life presents its own set of challenges from time to time. This is a hard game to play. He’s 14 months out of this game, and he’s coming back. I’m going to take it one day at a time with him.”
Kang played 229 games over two seasons with the Pirates in 2015-16. He batted .273 with 36 home runs and 120 RBIs. He played 24 games last winter in Dominican Republic, where he batted just .143 with one home run, 10 RBIs and 31 strikeouts.
At this point, Kang’s baseball-readiness is unknown.
“That will be decided once we get him to Bradenton and once we have to opportunity to assess where he is,” Huntington said. “He spent most of the winter in the Santiago region in the Dominican Republic. He’s been working out but hasn’t faced live competition. So a lot of that will be determined once we get our hands on him and get the assessment and get a feel for where he is physically.”
The Pirates currently roster 13 pitchers and 12 position players, a ratio that probably will flip later this season, Huntington said, which could create a spot for Kang. However, Huntington also insisted the team is pleased with rookie Colin Moran and David Freese at third base.
“If he takes care of what he needs to off the field and he gets back to that level, we’ll have an interesting decision to make,” Huntington said. “We’re a long ways away from that.”