On Tuesday, December 16, Global Sporting Integration’s Ryan Sadowski was interviewed by SNY Metsblog’s Toby Hyde and Robert Brender about the Korean shortstop Jung-Ho Kang. The interview took place in light of the reported Mets’ interested in the infielder.
Introduced as an “expert on Korean baseball,” Sadowski recalled his first game for the Lotte Giants in 2010. “The team that Kang played on (Nexen Heroes) was really weak but I noticed that the shortstop really stuck out – really toolsy guy … they asked me who’s good on this team. And I said “The shortstop, he’s got unbelievable tools.” The shortstop he referred to, of course, is a then-23-years-old Jung-Ho Kang.
Sadowski started on evaluating Kang by saying “Overall, he’s a good athlete.” The former pitcher then talked about Kang’s versatility “if a team would have gotten him out of high school they would’ve put him behind the dish. He’s got a strong arm and a thick lower half … you see a guy who would’ve been a catcher signed as an amateur out of Korea.” He added “What you really see is a versatile player that can do a lot of things.”
Kang’s calling card is his hitting and power. It is not clear how his bat will translate from being in the KBO to the majors. “The best way to look at it – I take guys that have gone from Korea to Japan and look at the way that their numbers translate and then look at guys from Japan to the states. That’s the only logical way to do it.” While Sadowski does not see the shortstop replicating the same caliber of hitting numbers, he thinks that power will show. “He has a lot of wrist speed… he kinda has that Gary Sheffield type of action, if you will. He’s not Sheffield but you definitely see some kind of his game offensively producing in the states.”
One of the main challenges for Kang will be consistently facing major league-quality pitches after being in the KBO for his entire career. Sadowski acknowledges that “He’s probably not going to hit 97 (miles-per-hour) or a plus breaking ball, but you see a lot of guys in the big leagues struggle with that.” Instead, he does think that Kang will punish mistake pitches and “be okay with hitting .250.” Sadowski then adds that people should temper their expectations, saying that Kang will not be a .350 hitter with 40-HR power in the majors. In order to adjust into the big leagues comfortably, the former pitcher opines that Kang should get the taste of the high minors before being in the big league roster. Citing the Cuban OF Yasiel Puig, Sadowski says “sometimes, getting uncomfortable in Double-A or Triple-A for few months is going to help him with the transition (to the majors) as long as the team is patient.”
While Kang has tools and skills, it remains to be seen if he can be a major league-caliber shortstop. In regards to Kang’s lower amount of errors, Sadowski notes that the scoring in the KBO is a bit “offense-friendly,” implying that more erroneous plays get marked as hits than it would in the majors. While he believes that Kang’s arm will get by fine in the majors, Sadowski feels that the shortstop has fundamental issues with his glove. “He doesn’t come through the ball consistently, fields them too deep… personally I think he just needs to be taught.” But the biggest concern is on the infielder’s “thick lower half.” “Is he going to be built to cover the ground at shortstop? He plays on turf now too, which means he plays hops that are truer.” There seems to be a lot of unknown not only about the bat, but also with his glove as well.
Regarding Kang’s fielding, Sadowski does not feel that the slugger is alone with the footwork issue. He pointed out that there is a lot of Japanese influence of “crow-hopping” to throw the ball. “Koreans are just significantly larger in stature and (Kang) is plenty of strong, which is part of the issue that Japanese players have, in terms of transitioning into (states).” He later added “I like (Kang) at third base. I think it’s just more natural for him but I think whoever gets him should start him off at shortstop and see how that goes.”
Lastly, regards to the money, Sadowski sees that Kang could get a contract of “three to four years guaranteed with $5 million a year” but notes that teams will look to put options to lock the infielder for a longer period, which could end up to “$15 million guarantee with $27 million on the back end.” But again, one should temper the expectations and maybe let Kang get acclimated to the baseball in states before making a splash in the majors. “You have to let him develop for maybe even a full season in the minor leagues before calling him up.”
Photo credit: Sports Chosun
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