Could Jung-Ho Kang be the Padres Answer at Short?
When the Padres hired A.J. Preller to replace Josh Byrnes, he was expected to make the Padres a strong presence in the international market. While it was mostly expected to be seen in Latin America, Preller went out and made his first international splash by winning the bid on the Korean lefty, Kwang-Hyun Kim. Could the Padres dip back into the Korean market and snag another piece? That piece would be the Nexen Heroes shortstop, Jung-ho Kang. Kang is likely to be the first hitter to posted from the KBO this December, and could be a major piece in someone’s offense in 2015.
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Kang will turn 28 in April and his numbers from 2014 were eye popping. He set career highs pretty much across the board, hitting .354/.457/.733 with 39 home runs and 114 RBI. All of this being done in 116 games, the fewest he’s played in since his first season with the Heroes back in 2008. Those numbers should be taken with a grain of salt, because of the lack of high quality pitching in the KBO. The league in terms of hitting, should be viewed similar to the Pacific Coast League. Flat out, guys rake. As an example, Yamico Navarro, who averaged 8 home runs a season in 8 minor league seasons in the Red Sox, Royals, Pirates and Royals systems, hit 31 homers last year in the KBO. Despite that, Kang was a man among boys, finishing with the best slugging percentage, second best OBP and the second most home runs.
While hitting at the Major League level will present some challenges, so may his defense. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe said that there “has always been skepticism over his ability to play shortstop in the majors”. That may throw up red flags for some, but the Padres have no one locked in at third or second base so if he can hit, he will play regardless if he struggles defensively.
One thing that may be most attractive is his price tag. Before the Padres won the bid on Kim, Kim was expected to receive higher bids than Kang. Most people assumed it take around $10 million to win Kim’s rights and a few million less for Kang’s. Now that Kim went for just $2 million, could Kang’s posting fee be even lower? It doesn’t look like much stock is being put into the quality of the KBO and could severely hurt Kang’s value. Kang’s loss would be the Padres gain though, as he could be acquired for a much lower rate than initially expected.
So should the Padres pursue Kang? He’s one of. if not the best hitter in the KBO, who is just entering his prime and probably won’t do too much damage to the payroll. That being said there’s no current comps for someone making the jump from the KBO to the majors without any previous experience in America. The closet thing to a comp of a western player would be former Blue Jays and Mariners outfielder, Eric Thames, who posted very similar numbers to Kang’s in the KBO last year and is the same age. That won’t instill much confidence in anyone, but Kang is still a complete unknown and if the Padres could get their hands on a decent power bat, I’d like to think they’d take the chance.