Posted on April 26, 2018, by Bryan Zarpentine
After an odyssey that has lasted over a year, Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang is back in the United States. He also appears ready to resume his big league career. Kang spent the entire 2017 on the restricted list after being denied a work visa because of a DUI arrest in his native South Korea. However, that process has finally been cleared up. Kang is currently in the United States, has a work visa, and will soon participate in extended spring training.
“After a lengthy process, we are pleased that Jung Ho has been allowed to re-enter the United States,” Pirates president Frank Coonelly said in a statement. “We are encouraged by the steps that Jung Ho has taken to date and are hopeful that having the game he loves taken away from him for more than a year has driven home the reality that he must make better life decisions as we move forward together.”
Kang was initially arrested for DUI in December 2016. Soon after, it came out that he had previous arrests for the same crime in South Korea. Ultimately, he was given a two-year suspended sentence, meaning he was able to return to the U.S. to play baseball. However, last March, he was denied a work visa, in large part because he had multiple DUI arrests in Korea. After more than a year in limbo, Kang finally has his work visa and can return to the Pirates.
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However, Kang still has work to do before he returns to the field. In January 2017, he agreed to take part in a treatment program. He must complete his obligations in that program before reporting to the Pirates’ spring training complex in Bradenton, Florida.
“As we have communicated to him throughout this process, we will work to provide Jung Ho with the resources and support necessary for him to meet the high expectations that we have for him as a member of our organization and our community,” said Coonelly.
Once he completes the treatment program, it remains to be seen how long Kang will need to get into playing shape. Kang played pro ball in the Dominican Republic during the past year. But he hit just .143 over 24 games before being released.
Prior to his legal troubles, Kang had become a productive big league hitter. He was one of Pittsburgh’s most impactful players during the 2016. That season, he hit .255 with 21 home runs, helping him post an OPS of .867. The Pirates definitely felt his absence last season, especially since they didn’t find out until March that he had been denied a visa.
However, there’s no guarantee the Pirates will have room for him this year. Colin Moran, who Pittsburgh aquired over the winter, has started to establish himself at the hot corner. Prior to his injury, Josh Harrison was off to a good start as Pittsburgh’s everyday second baseman. Meanwhile, Jordy Mercer continues to be a solid option at shortstop. The Pirates also have three versatilie utilty players in David Freese, Sean Rodriguez, and Adam Frazier. That doesn’t leave much room for Kang.
Nevertheless, Pirates verteran catcher Francisco Cervelli said Kang would be a welcomed addition to the club.
“He’s a human. He makes mistakes like everybody else. When he comes back here, we’re going to make sure that he feels like he’s at home,” said Cervelli. “He’s part of this. For us, it’s a good guy and also it’s a good player.”
Of course, there’s no way of knowing how soon Kang may return to the big leagues. For the time being, he’ll remain on the restricted list. However, now that he’s back in the U.S., Kang is finally on the road to resuming his major league career.