PITTSBURGH (AP) Jung Ho Kang is back in the United States and on his way to rejoining the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The club announced Thursday that the South Korean third baseman has been granted a work visa by the U.S. government and will report to the team’s training complex in Bradenton, Florida.
The 31-year-old Kang last played for the Pirates in 2016. He was arrested in South Korea on DUI charges for a third time in December 2016 and received an eight-month suspended prison sentence that led to visa issues.
Pittsburgh, which signed Kang to an $11 million, four-year contract in January 2015, placed Kang on the restricted list last March after Kang failed to secure a visa. The club said Kang will remain on the restricted list while he works out in Florida.
Pirates president Frank Coonelly said the team is pleased have to Kang back but added Kang must fulfill obligations under a treatment program he agreed to as a condition of his return.
”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,” Coonelly said in a statement. ”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.”
Catcher Francisco Cervelli kept in touch with Kang in the 19 months since Kang last wore a Pirates uniform and said he expects Kang to have little trouble reintegrating into a club that’s undergone a significant overhaul in his absence.
”He’s a human,” Cervelli said. ”We cannot judge and do anything. He’s a human, make mistakes like everyone else. When he comes back here, we’re going to make sure he’s at home.”
Kang finished third in NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2015 after becoming the first position player to make the leap from the Korean Baseball Organization directly to the majors. He hit .287 with 15 home runs and 58 RBIs for Pittsburgh in 2015 as the Pirates won 98 games and reached the playoffs for a third straight year.
Kang added 21 home runs in 2016 but was also accused of sexual assault by a 23-year-old woman following an encounter at his hotel room on June 17, 2016, while the team was playing in Chicago. No charges were filed.
The Pirates have moved on at third base in Kang’s absence, acquiring Colin Moran from Houston in January as part of the deal that sent ace Gerrit Cole to the Astros. Moran is hitting .296.
Kang played briefly in the Dominican Republic during the offseason but was released after hitting .143 and striking out 31 times.
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