The San Francisco Giants are hoping they’ve found the next undervalued asset from the Korean Baseball Organization. The Giants are reportedly close to signing Korean infielder Jae-gyun Hwang to a minor-league deal worth $1.5 million, according to John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle.
The 29-year-old Hwang is coming off a season in which he hit .335/.394/.570, with 27 home runs, over 522 plate appearances for the Lotte Giants of the KBO. Hwang is expected to play third for the Giants, but he’s also seen time at both shortstop and second. He ranked 25th on Jeff Passan’s list of available free agents.
While that slash line seem otherworldly, it’s important to note that the offensive environment in Korea is much higher. Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang hit an incredible .356/.459/.739 with 40 home runs the season before he came to Major League Baseball. While Kang’ has performed well since joining the Pirates, he hasn’t come anywhere close to the numbers he put up in Korea.
The stark difference in competition makes it tough to evaluate how players will handle the transition from the KBO to MLB. While Kang has worked out, at least on the field, the track record of players who have come over from the KBO isn’t long.
Since Kang came over in 2015, he’s been joined by three other players who previously played in the KBO: Hyun Soo Kim, Dae-ho Lee and Byung-ho Park. Lee actually spent his last two seasons in Nippon Professional Baseball before coming over, but made a name for himself in the KBO.
Of that group, Kang is the clear standout. He’s a borderline All-Star if he can stay on the field. Kim looks like a solid major-league starter. Lee is more of a platoon bat. Park may not be a major-league player.
Given the wide range in the performances of those four players, it would be foolish to try and project what Hwang will do based on their numbers. Even if you say he should wind up somewhere in the middle, it’s unclear what that means. There’s a pretty big gap between possible All-Star and Triple-A lifer.
With that said, the Giants aren’t giving up much to see where he falls on that scale. While the signing brings a fair amount of uncertainty, $1.5 million is next to nothing in today’s game. If Hwang toils in the minors all season, he’s hardly a financial burden. If he’s anything more than that, the Giants just got a productive player at a bargain price.
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