Could We See Jung Ho Kang At Shortstop In 2017?

Could we see Jung Ho Kang playing shortstop once again in 2017?

In just two seasons in Pittsburgh Jung Ho Kang has already become one of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ most popular players. Furthermore, he has also become one of the team’s most feared hitters. Could we see him playing a different position in 2017, though?

Prior to coming to the Major Leagues Kang played shortstop in the Korean Baseball Organization. While he has played some shortstop in the Majors, he has been primarily a third baseman. And after the catastrophic leg injury Kang suffered in September of 2015 it appeared that he would never play shortstop again.

During his rookie campaign in 2015 Jung Ho Kang played both shortstop and third base for the Pittsburgh Pirates. In 2015 Kang logged 426 innings at shortstop and 535 1/3 innings at third base. Despite playing both, Kang as a far superior defensive third baseman.

At shortstop Kang had a -6.4 UZR/150 and zero defensive runs saved. Meanwhile, Kang played a Gold Glove caliber third base. Jung Ho Kang would finish 2015 with a 3.6 UZR/150 and five defensive runs saved at third base.

Jung Ho Kang’s defensive struggles at shortstop came before suffering a catastrophic knee injury last September. Due to this injury Clint Hurdle said this past Spring Training that, most likely, Kang would not play shortstop at all for the Pirates in 2016. And Kang has indeed played nothing but third base in 2016.

In 2016 Kang’s defense has regressed at third base. It is very possible that this is due to the knee injury he suffered last September. Despite this, Jung Ho Kang has still been an above average defensive third baseman in 2016.

Despite injuries, multiple trips to the disabled list, and slumping defense Jung Ho Kang has been a force at the plate in 2016. In 355 plate appearances Kang owns a .264/.366/.525/.891 slash line, .379 wOBA, 140 wRC+, 10.1 percent walk rate, and 20 home runs. Minus his batting average, all of these numbers are improvements over last season for Kang.

Moving forward, it appears we might see Jung Ho Kang at shortstop some in 2017. Prior to the Pirates’ game against the Cubs on Monday manager Clint Hurdle had this to say when asked about Kang potentially playing shortstop in 2017:

“That’s going to be an interesting development.” 

To me, it sounds like the Pirates would like Kang to be able to play shortstop in 2017 but are uncertain if he can with his leg. Maybe the most important aspect to playing the shortstop position to lateral range. Obviously, a catastrophic leg injury can limit this range.

If Kang is able to play shortstop in 2017, it allows the Pirates to get more creative with their bench. Right now David Freese, John Jaso, Chris Stewart, and Adam Frazier are locks for the bench. However, none of these players are capable of playing shortstop.

If Kang can play shortstop, though, it allows the Pirates to value offense over defense with that last bench spot. This could lead to Alen Hanson making the team over Pedro Florimon, or some other journeyman backup shortstop the Bucs add. It could also allow the Pirates to play David Freese at third base, Jung Ho Kang at shortstop, and Josh Bell at first base, which is their best offensive trio for these three positions, on most nights.

Will we see Jung Ho Kang played shortstop in 2017? It certainly seems possible. This would allow the Pirates to get very creative on their bench and make it a lot stronger as well. I guess we will have to wait until next spring and see.

This article originally appeared on