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Pirates officially sign Korean shortstop Kang | TribLIVE.com
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Pirates officially sign Korean shortstop Kang

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David Arrigo | Pirates
Pirates shortstop Jung Ho Kang
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David Arrigo | Pirates
Pirates shortstop Jung Ho Kang

The Pirates announced the signing of Korean shortstop Jung Ho Kang on Friday, an acquisition carrying upside and the unknown along with fascinating short- and long-term consequences.

Kang agreed to a four-year, $11 million deal with a $5.5 million club option for 2019, according to a source.

If Kang develops into what the Pirates believe he can be — a quality major league regular — the Pirates added a valuable player at a Clint Barmes-level cost. Kang, 27, will begin his major league career as a utility infielder, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said.

“He will come into camp as a complementary player that brings a bat off the bench,” Huntington said. “We feel we have a nice all-around player that will have a successful career as a regular. We just don’t know exactly when that will happen.”

Kang — pronounced “Gahng” — will begin the season on the major league roster.

“We have zero intent of sending him to the minor leagues,” said Huntington, who met Kang on Thursday when he flew to Pittsburgh for a physical and to finalize the contract.

The Pirates believe Kang can play shortstop, second base and third base, but Kang could have a difficult time finding regular playing time immediately as the Pirates infield appears set entering spring training. Huntington was asked about Kang’s comments made to the Korean press stating he felt he could outperform incumbent shortstop Jordy Mercer.

“The way it was presented is not the way he said it,” Huntington said. “He was asked a series of questions, and that quote was put together based on those series of questions. It’s not what he wanted represented.”

While a road map to playing time is unclear for Kang in the near term, Neil Walker is becoming more expensive in arbitration and is eligible for free agency after the 2016 season. Mercer and Josh Harrison each have to prove 2014 was reflective of their true talent level.

“As we put this team together, there is no set script (where) if (Kang) becomes what we expect him to be we’re going to trade Player X or move Player Y,” Huntington said. “At the same time, we have to be cognizant of building future teams. … (Kang) gives us options as we move forward.”

The right-handed hitting Kang batted .356 with 40 home runs in 117 games last season for the Nexen Heroes, but there is uncertainty in how his numbers in the Korean Baseball Organization will translate. Some analysts believe the KBO is akin to that of a hitter-friendly, Double-A environment. For instance, former major leaguers Eric Thames (.343 average) and Felix Pie (.326) also posted inflated offensive numbers in the KBO.

Huntington said the Pirates conducted “exhaustive” scouting of the 6-foot, 180-pound Kang.

Part of the scouting was data driven. The Pirates consulted statistical models created by their analytics department. They have similar models for Japanese and Cuban professional leagues, but making the projections were particularly difficult with Kang, who is the first position player from the KBO to be posted and sign with a major league team.

“The toughest part of it is this is an unprecedented move,” Huntington said. “That’s why we’ve done a tremendous amount of due diligence.”

The Pirates also live scouted Kang, studied video and spoke to those around the KBO who were familiar with him.

“We’re really intrigued by his offensive upside,” Huntington said. “The raw power is obvious. Some of the balls he hits out over there are going to leave any ballpark in America. … What also intrigues us is his ability to adjust. … We talked to a number of pitchers that competed against him, and there was no one way to get him out.

“There are times we have to take a calculated risk. If he transitions well and is an above average player, it is a great sign for us.”

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at tsawchik@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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