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Pirates notebook: Jung Ho Kang released by winter ball team

Rob Biertempfel
| Monday, Nov. 27, 2017, 10:21 a.m.
The Pirates' Jung Ho Kang sits in the dugout during a game against the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park last season.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
The Pirates' Jung Ho Kang sits in the dugout during a game against the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park last season.
Oakland Athletics pitcher Sam Moll stands on the mound as Seattle Mariners' Mitch Haniger rounds the bases behind him after Haniger hit a solo home run in the seventh inning of a baseball game, Sunday, Sept. 3, 2017, in Seattle.
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
Oakland Athletics pitcher Sam Moll stands on the mound as Seattle Mariners' Mitch Haniger rounds the bases behind him after Haniger hit a solo home run in the seventh inning of a baseball game, Sunday, Sept. 3, 2017, in Seattle.

Jung Ho Kang wanted to use a stint in the Dominican Winter League to get back into playing shape. Aguilas Cibaenas wanted an impact player.

Kang did not deliver, so on Monday he was booted from the Aguilas roster.

Kang batted just .143 in 24 games with Aguilas Cibaenas. He hit one home run, collected 10 RBIs, led the team with 31 strikeouts and made four errors at third base.

“That league is a tremendous developmental environment, but it's very demanding,” Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. “It doesn't matter who you are. If you don't perform tonight and then perform again tomorrow, they'll move on.”

After his third drunk driving conviction in South Korea, Kang was unable to get a U.S. work visa last spring. He sat out all of this past season, and his status for 2018 is in limbo.

Because he is still under contract with the Pirates, Kang cannot play competitive baseball in South Korea. The third baseman is healthy, Huntington said, but the layoff has dulled his skills.

“He flashed signs of knocking the rust off, but not enough,” Huntington said.

Kang will return to South Korea and resume training with a high-velocity pitching machine.

“It's not as good as facing live arms, but it's become a thing that hitters want to do,” Huntington said. “It's our next-best bet.”

If Kang is unable to rejoin the team next season, Sean Rodriguez, who was acquired in August, could take on a larger role at third base.

Rodriguez hit a winning homer in his first game back with the Pirates but struggled last summer after recovering from an offseason car crash. This winter, he is having what Huntington called a “normal baseball offseason” — free from additional surgeries or rehab.

With the winter meetings just two weeks away, the Pirates also are exploring infield options.

“We'll look at the trade and free agent markets,” Huntington said.

Kang, 30, remains on the restricted list, which means he does not count against the Pirates' 40-man roster, is not accruing major league service time and is not being paid by the club.

Kang is under contract for $3 million in 2018. His deal includes a $5.5 million club option or $250,000 buyout for 2019.

Around the horn

By the end of this week, the Pirates likely will hire a replacement for former Latin America scouting director Rene Gayo, who was fired two weeks ago. … The Pirates took their first step to join what should be a crowded field of suitors for Japanese standout Shohei Ohtani. Ohtani has asked teams to provide information, in English and Japanese, about their staff, facilities, resources, cities and player development systems.

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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