With Derek Jeter officially retired, Brian Cashman and his staff have been left with the daunting task of replacing their iconic shortstop. In an imperfect free agent market for shortstops, it’s possible that the Yankees are looking for a young player with upside, with Hanley Ramirez now headed to the Boston Red Sox and Stephen Drew coming off of a horrific season at the plate.
Jung-Ho Kang is a 27-year old South Korean shortstop with the Nexen Heroes, of the Korean Baseball Organization. It’s been reported that Kang will be posted by the Heroes using the old posting process that applied to the Japanese baseball leagues prior to 2014. All interested teams will make blind bids, with the highest bid winning an exclusive 30-day negotiating window. In the unlikely event that a contract agreement isn’t in place at the end of 30-days, Kang would remain with the KBO. Ken Rosenthal, of Fox Sports, has reported that he’s not expected to be posted until after the winter meetings in early December.
By any offensive standard, Kang put up MVP caliber numbers at the shortstop position this past season and is now in the prime years of his career. Nicknamed "The Korean A-Rod," the right-handed hitter put up a slash line of .354/.457/.733, to go along with 39 home runs, 115 runs batted in and 36 doubles. That’s quite a remarkable accomplishment for any player, nonetheless a shortstop. With power numbers on the decline throughout the majors, Kang will be coveted, by teams that believe his skill set will translate to the major leagues. However, those numbers need to be taken with caution as most opinions show that the KBO’s level play falls in the range of High-A talent. There does seem to be mixed reports on how he will play in America, as some scouts see him as a 10+ home run player, while others believe that his pronounce leg kick will be a hindrance on inside fastballs with increased velocity.
On the defensive side of the field, scouting reports are a mixed bag as well. Some believe that Kang will stick at the position, while others think that second or third base are better fits. The skeptics have concern with his range and arm strength when making plays deep in the hole; the believers feel that he can be adequate at the position. To his credit he has won the KBO’s equivalent of the gold glove three times.
History will be made when Jung-Ho Kang signs a major league contract, as no other hitter has gone from the KBO to Major League Baseball. In fact only Hyun-jin Ryu of the Los Angeles Dodgers has ever joined Major League Baseball, via the KBO. Time will tell whether or not the Yankees talent evaluators believe that Kang can be successful here in the states. If they have interest, it bears keeping in mind that they had scouted Masahiro Tanaka for seven years before signing him last offseason, so they without question do their due diligence. One thing is for sure--whoever succeeds Derek Jeter has huge shoes to fill.