Nexen Heroes' shortstop Kang Jung-ho is regarded as the best player at his position in the Korea Baseball Organization league, raising expectations that he could sign a contract with a Major League club next year. / Yonhap
By Jhoo Dong-chan
Can Nexen Heroes' shortstop Kang Jung-ho live up to his nickname as the "Korean A-Rod," even after he advances to the major leagues?
This is the question that many fans, as well as big-league teams, have on their minds because the right-handed infielder will be eligible to sign with a foreign team next year after playing for seven successful seasons in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO).
Obviously, Kang has boasted numbers, especially this season, impressive enough for him to be compared with major-league star shortstop Alex Rodriguez during his heyday with the New York Yankees.
Kang already has 38 homers and 33 doubles with a batting average of .360 and a remarkable on-base plus slugging (OPS) of 1.219. He hit at least 20 home runs in three straight seasons, becoming the first and only shortstop in the KBO to do so.
This is a rare achievement, even in the majors, as the position puts heavy emphasis on defense.
According to the Global Sporting Integration, a sports consulting firm, Kang attracted many scouts to the Heroes' spring training camp in Surprise, Arizona earlier this year with the list of teams including the Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels, San Francisco Giants, San Diego Padres, Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Royals and Cincinnati Reds; and even the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals whose training camp are based in Florida.
"The interest from MLB (Major League Baseball) teams has continued during the season. Scouts from the Detroit Tigers, Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers, San Diego Padres, Kansas City Royals, Boston Red Sox, Washington Nationals and Arizona Diamondbacks have scouted Kang in Korea. On June 6, he hit three home runs in front of MLB scouts and left a strong impression," the company said in a report available in its website.
With the upcoming shortstop free agent market being relatively thin in the majors, as Hanley Ramirez, J.J. Hardy, Jed Lowrie and Stephen Drew are a few of the only ones available, Kang seems to have a chance to cross the Pacific.
Experts and observers also speak highly of Kang's ability, optimistic of his success in the big leagues.
"He can definitely hit more than 10 homers per season," said Daniel Kim, a former scout for the Cleveland Indians and now a commentator for MLB broadcaster SPOTV.
But some suggest that Kang needs to improve his defense.
"If Kang does head to MLB, I don't know if he will find the instant success that Ryu Hyun-jin found with the Dodgers in his rookie season," said Dan Kurtz, an English-language website MyKBO.net operator. "He will need to make sure he continues to work on his defense."
The Global Sporting Integration also pointed out that Kang "has committed errors in routine plays at times, which has led some experts to doubt whether he can be an everyday shortstop in the MLB" and suggested that he is better suited as a third baseman or right fielder so that he can focus more on offense, quoting a Major League scout.