The Nexen Heroes have officially posted SS Jung Ho Kang for MLB bidding today and will be accepting offers from MLB over the next 4 business days. Kang is known for his herculean power in the KBO. In 117 games played in 2014, Kang hit .356 with 40 HR, 117 RBIs, and 36 doubles. Defensively he is a below average fielding SS with a very strong arm to make up for his range issues.
Recent estimates expect the Nexen Heroes to expect a bid within the $10-$15m range. In addition to the bid, Kang is expected to request a 3 yr deal worth roughly $24m. On the surface, Kang seems like a no-brainer for clubs to go out and sign to fill their respective holes at SS. However, there are some serious concerns about how Kang's power and defensive skills will translate to the MLB.
The Korean Baseball Organization is widely known as being a heavy hitters environment. Kang's home field, Mokdong Stadium, is 322ft in the corners, 371ft in the allies, and 387ft in center field. By KBO standards Mokdong Stadium is an average size, other stadiums are as small as 312ft in the corners to a maximum of 328ft. The small stadiums help contribute to an insanely high league wide average of .807 OPS. The quality of pitching is also lackluster in the KBO. The average team ERA in 2014 was 5.22 runs per 9 innings. The average K/9 rate was 6.8 and average BB/9 rates was 3.8. The top pitchers in the league generally run their fastballs between 88-93mph, a far cry from the dominating 96-98mph fastballs of the most elite MLB pitchers.
For visual sake, here is a side by side comparison of the MLB to the KBO:
It is very reasonable to believe that Kang's insane 2014 numbers will not translate to the MLB very well. However, as we can see, the HR rates between the 2 leagues are actually very similar. While we can safely assume that Kang will most certainly not hit .356 in the MLB, a high slugging percentage is not unreasonable.
Defensively, Kang is considered league average in the KBO and evaluators believe he will translate into a below average defender in the MLB. One scout even went as far as to say that current Mets SS Wilmer Flores would be better than him. That is certainly a very troubling analysis to hear from talent scouts. One thing that has to be kept in mind though is that Kang played almost 75% of his games on fields with artificial turf as it's playing surface.
Turf infields play significantly faster then their grass counterparts and do not give fielders much time to react to hard hit groundball. One could reasonably assume that a transition over to grass fields will help Kang's defensive range by slowing the ball down and allowing his strong arm to make plays. Based on the available information and the differences between the two leagues I personally would forecast Kang posting the below stat line.
.260 Avg, .330 OBP, .430 SLG (.760 OPS), 25 HR, 150 K, 70 BB
All in all, Sandy and his team have 96 hours to determine if Kang can be a reasonable upgrade to Wilmer Flores at SS. At $8m per season, a bust here would not be a earth shattering blow to the organization considering they spent $7.25m of dead money on Chris Young last year. If he proves out to be a strong bat but too poor of a defender at SS, the club will be able to find him a home in the AL before some of the younger talent in the minors is ready for the MLB.
Here is a video of Kang's 2013 highlights.
And Another of just his defensive play in the KBO.