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Things Could Get Much More Interesting At the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Hot Corner

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MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates-Workouts Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Jung Ho Kang’s two-homer performance yesterday in his spring debut has a ton of Pittsburgh Pirates fans and observers wondering how the hot corner is going to shake out in 2019.

It was just one game.

Hell, it was just one spring training game.

And, yes, the two home runs that Jung Ho Kang hit in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ eventual 10-6 win over the Miami Marlins yesterday came against Trevor Richards (The Marlins’ minor league pitcher of the year in 2017, yet still carrying just 25 career MLB starts, 4.45 ERA) and Hector Noesi (a career journeyman reliever/spot starter with a career 5.30 ERA/5.00 FIP).

But those two Bradenton blasts swept up Pirates fans in a typhoon of excitement that was further propelled by Ke’Bryan Hayes belting two home runs of his own, including the walk-off winner.

The proceedings should not have been a surprise. Though Kang still represents a great unknown — and one Grapefruit League game isn’t going to change that — many in the game feel that getting back to his established level of production at the plate is simply a matter of fine-tuning his timing rather than rebuilding anything fundamental.

As for Hayes, well. If you aren’t aware of the esteem that the industry holds for “Young Hayes,” you simply aren’t paying attention. Hayes’ already well-established tools are now making room for emerging raw power grown organically into better-by-the-day game power simply through a continuously refining approach. With dazzling defensive capabilities, Hayes will very likely man the Pirates’ 3B station full time at some point in 2020.

That does not preclude 2019 from being awfully interesting in the interim, however.

Moran vs. Kang

Of course, the main source of intrigue will be the split in playing time between Kang and Colin Moran.

When Kang first re-entered the states and rejoined the Pittsburgh Pirates, many were quick to point to the duo as a ready-made platoon. The left-handed batting Moran does hit righties well, with a .338 wOBA/113 wRC+ against them last season. He is abjectly terrible against southpaws at .231 wOBA/42 wRC+ rates, making it no surprise that manager Clint Hurdle limited Moran’s exposure to them to just 69 plate appearances all season.

Kang, on the other hand, is rather platoon-proof. Keeping the same wOBA/wRC+ metrics, Kang puts up .329/107 against lefties and .370/135 for his career. Kang’s power does get sapped a bit vs lefties to the tune of a .166 clip, which is notable. He, too, has been limited over his career against LHPs to the tune of 179 PAs.

So if they both don’t hit lefties very well, what is left to platoon?

Exactly.

It should be no surprise to anyone if Kang, after he proves to be sturdy enough, overtakes Moran in the everyday third base role sooner rather than later.

At the end of the day, it is now clear that both are simply keeping a seat warm for Hayes.