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Shortstop Kang Jung-ho wants to 'shatter stereotypes' of Asian position players in MLB

All Headlines 14:46 December 21, 2014

SEOUL, Dec. 21 (Yonhap) -- South Korean shortstop Kang Jung-ho, about to enter contract talks with a Major League Baseball (MLB) club, said Sunday he wants to "shatter stereotypes" about Asian position players in the big leagues.

Kang met the local media for the first time since his Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) club, the Nexen Heroes, accepted a US$5 million bid for the posted shortstop a day earlier. Though the identity of the bid winner has not been disclosed, the team will have exclusive rights to negotiate a contract with Kang for 30 days once it's officially informed of the Heroes' decision.

At his press conference held at the Heroes home of Mokdong Stadium in Seoul, Kang said he will prepare hard over the winter to set new standards for Asian position players in the majors.

"First and foremost, I'd like to shatter the stereotypes about Asian fielders," Kang said. "As long as I get consistent opportunities to play, I think I should be able to make quick adjustments. I can't really say now whether I am going to make it because I've never experienced (the majors) but working hard during the winter will be a start."

The exact amount of the winning bid was $5,002,015. Kang said he himself didn't know which team had won the bidding. It's the second-highest for a posted South Korean player after the Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Ryu Hyun-jin, who drew $25.7 million in 2012. The bid for Kang is also the third highest for an Asian position player, behind Ichiro Suzuki, who drew $13.1 million from the Seattle Mariners in 2000, and Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who garnered a $5.3 million bid from the Minnesota Twins in 2010.

Both players had successful careers in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB). Suzuki won the American League MVP and Rookie of the Year in 2001, but Nishioka and most other All-Star fielders from Japan haven't been as successful in the majors.

Kang said he was aware of their struggles in MLB, and that he feels the weight of expectations as the first South Korean position player to be posted.

"Most of the Asian position players haven't had good careers, and I admit I am feeling the pressure as the first South Korean player in this situation," Kang added. "I know I have to do well so that (MLB teams) will have a good impression of Korean players in general. I feel responsible for playing an important role for the future of Korean baseball."

Kang, who made his KBO debut in 2006, enjoyed the best offensive season of his career in 2014. He played in 117 of the team's 128 games and set career-highs with a .356 batting average, 40 home runs and 117 RBIs. The home run and RBI totals were both single-season records by a shortstop in the KBO.

<YNAPHOTO path='C:/YNA/YNACLI~1/Down/Article/AEN20141221001800315_01_i.jpg' id='' title='' caption='Kang Jung-ho of the Nexen Heroes poses for pictures during a press conference at Mokdong Stadium in Seoul on Dec. 21, 2014. (Yonhap)'/>

Kang also established new personal bests with 149 hits, 36 doubles, 103 runs scored, a .459 on-base percentage and a .739 slugging percentage.

He said his power must have drawn interest from big league clubs. He added that it doesn't matter which team put in the highest bid for him, as long as he feels wanted.

While big league scouts have spoken highly of Kang's raw power, they have also questioned his defense at short. Primarily a catcher in high school, Kang is known for a strong arm, but he has a limited range. He has also developed a reputation for botching routine plays, and MLB teams were reportedly interested in Kang as a second baseman or even a third baseman.

Kang played third base on the South Korean national team at the 2010 Asian Games and had a brief stint behind the plate early in his KBO career. But he has mostly been a shortstop and he said that's where he'd like to play in the majors, too.

"I'd like to start out playing shortstop," Kang said. "But if the situation calls for it, I'd rather play third base than second base because I am more comfortable there."

Asked about specific goals for his first MLB season, Kang said, "If I can hit around .260 to .270 with about 15 home runs, they won't be such bad numbers for a first year (as a shortstop)."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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