Infielder Jung Ho Kang has been granted a U.S. visa and will rejoin the Pirates in a matter of days, the Pirates announced on Thursday.
Kang, now 31, hasn't played in MLB since late May of 2016 because of legal problems in his native Korea and had been on the Major League Baseball restricted list since the beginning of the 2017 season. Kang had previously been unable to secure a visa after being convicted of his third drunk-driving offense.
Pirates president Frank Coonelly on Thursday released the following statement through the club:
"After a lengthy process, we are pleased that Jung Ho has been allowed to re-enter to the United States. We are encouraged by the steps that Jung Ho has taken to date and are hopeful that having the game he loves taken away from him for more than a year has driven home the reality that he must make better life decisions as we move forward together. As we have communicated to him throughout this process, we will work to provide Jung Ho with the resources and support necessary for him to meet the high expectations that we have for him as a member of our organization and our community."
In that same statement, the team that Kang, after fulfilling his obligations to the agreed-upon treatment program, will report to Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida. He'll remain on the restricted list while he gets in shape and prepares for game action.
Kang was quite productive in his first two MLB seasons. Across 229 games, Kang owns a slash line of .273/.355/.483 (126 OPS+) with 36 home runs, 43 doubles, and time spent at third base and shortstop. Obviously, he's older now and coming off a long layoff, so it's hard to project his near-term future. Given that he may not be able to play shortstop any longer and that the Pirates have young producers at the infield corners, Kang may also not have a clear path to regular playing time. No doubt, though, if he hits then Clint Hurdle will make room for him in the lineup.