Third baseman Jung Ho Kang is expected to return to the Pirates after he finally obtained a United States work visa, sources told Rob Biertempfel of The Athletic.
Kang has been out of the major leagues for the last year and a half after he was denied a visa following a conviction of a third drunk-driving offense in South Korea in February 2017. He was sentenced to an eight-month jail term. The only baseball action he has seen since then was this past offseason when he played with the Aguilar Cabanas of the Dominican Winter League this past offseason. However, he was released after hitting only .143 in 24 games.
Biertempfel’s sources say Kang is in the U.S., but he has not yet arrived in Pittsburgh to begin the re-entry process with the Pirates. Kang is currently on the restricted list, which means that he does not count toward the Pirates’ 25-man and 40-man rosters, and he will stay on it until he completes the process. Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle couldn’t give a timetable as far as when Kang will report to the Pirates’ spring training facility in Bradenton, Fla. and when he will rejoin the team.
Kang remains under contract with the Pirates through the end of this season. His contract includes a $5.5 million club option for 2019, but the Pirates could buy out his deal at $250,000.
If he does come back, Kang will have to try to back to being the player he was when he first started playing with the Pirates. In 2015, he hit .287/.355/.461 while smacking 15 home runs and 58 RBI in 126 games en route to finishing third in the Rookie of the Year voting. In 2016, he batted .255/.354/.513 but blasted 21 homers and knocked in 62 runs in 103 games.