Jung Ho Kang, 28, was one of the most interesting players in baseball this season, until his rookie year came to a screeching halt on September 17.
The Shortstop was injured on a tough slide into second base by the Chicago Cubs' Chris Coghlan.
Coghlan’s leg came up on the play, trying to knock Kang down and stop him from throwing to first. Kang’s leg was fractured, and he looks to be out of baseball for six-to-eight months.
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Takeout slides, as they are most commonly known, are relatively common practice. The idea is to prevent the fielder from getting another out, thus breaking up a double or triple play.
MLB has considered banning the takeout slide before, and the subject came up again after the rulings on home plate collisions came out.
In the 2014 offseason, a decision was made that catchers needed to be protected. Countless players were injured in collisions at home plate. The new rules state that the baserunner must do his best to avoid colliding with the catcher.
The Pirates themselves had already seen a player lost to a rough slide. Shortstop Jordy Mercer was injured on a takeout slide by then Brewers’ stud Carlos Gomez in July.
If catchers now deserve so much protection, why do middle infielders not get the same consideration?
A big reputation
Kang was a star in the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO), and was the first position player to make the jump directly from KBO to major league baseball.
Los Angeles Dodgers Starting Pitcher Hyun-jin Ryu was the first player to make the jump in 2013. Ryu has been unable to play in 2015, spending the year on the disabled list.
Jung Ho put up incredible numbers for Seoul’s Nexen Heroes in 2014. In 117 games, Kang slashed .356/.459/.739, with 36 doubles and 40 Home Runs.
Scouting reports that came in were mixed, however. Some major league scouts were wary of his high leg kick. Some questioned his defense, and saw him as more of a corner infielder rather than Shortstop.Enough people believed in Kang for him to earn a four-year, $11 million contract with the Pirates.
Kang’s rookie season
All of the hype that was built up in the offseason came back to bite Kang. He started spring training off with a long opposite field home run, which only added to the excitement. The slugger was unable to keep up though, posting poor numbers for the rest of spring training.
With incumbent Jordy Mercer doing as expected, and breakout Josh Harrison playing well enough at third base, Kang was out of a job to start the year. He worked as a bench utility player until Josh Harrison broke his thumb. The South Korean then had an opportunity to show his stuff, and capitalized on it.
Kang’s year was a great success before being ended by this injury, and he was a candidate for Rookie Of The Year.
The slugger managed an impressive .287 batting average and .461 slugging percentage. He’d also hit 15 longballs and 24 doubles. His production was key in Pittsburg making the playoffs.
Reeling from the loss of Kang, the Pirates may lose out on a World Series. The team looks to have much less depth, now playing Aramis Ramirez at third base and Jordy Mercer at Shortstop.
The team will miss not only Kang’s offensive production, but his positional versatility. With a playoff spot locked, there is a lot of baseball left for the Pirates, and it ought to be much harder to win without their sparkplug of the 2015 season.