Aaron Gleeman

Jung Ho Kang Pirates

Hot-hitting Jung Ho Kang takes over as Pirates’ shortstop

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Jung Ho Kang’s slow start to spring training had a surprising number of people concluding that his big-time production in Korea wouldn’t translate to MLB, but he’s proven them very wrong so far and has now established himself as the Pirates’ starting shortstop.

Kang began the season in a bench role, but he’s hit .299 with two homers, five doubles, and an .823 OPS in 75 plate appearances. Along with Opening Day shortstop Jordy Mercer hitting .176 that convinced manager Clint Hurdle to make Kang the shortstop all weekend.

He signed a four-year, $11 million deal with the Pirates this offseason after hitting .356 with 40 homers and a 1.198 OPS in 117 games last year in Korea. Kang needs to keep putting up big numbers at the plate in order to remain the starter, because Hurdle made it pretty clear that he still views the 28-year-old’s defense skeptically, telling Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette:

I believe when you look at Jung Ho, the shortstop I’d probably compare him to would be a Jhonny Peralta-type. Jordy has probably more lateral range. They’re both very accurate with their arms. Jordy’s got more experience within this league for positioning. The only way Jung Ho’s going to get it is to continue to get out there and get those reps.

Mercer is a career .254 hitter with a .688 OPS in 325 games, so even if Kang comes back down to earth a bit there’s a good chance he can continue to be the superior offensive player. Hurdle’s ongoing evaluation of his defense figures to play a big role. Whatever the case, that $11 million is looking like a solid investment.

Brewers demote starting second baseman Scooter Gennett to Triple-A

Scooter Gennett Brewers
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Scooter Gennett has been Milwaukee’s starting second baseman since pushing Rickie Weeks aside in mid-2013, but after hitting just .159 in 20 games the Brewers have demoted the 25-year-old to Triple-A.

Gennett got off to a slow start, spent two weeks on the disabled list with a shower-related injury, and went just 4-for-34 (.118) upon returning. However, he came into this season as a career .300 hitter in 206 games and it’s not like the Brewers have a great option to replace him, especially with shortstop Jean Segura on the disabled list with a fractured finger.

Milwaukee is 13-24 and has already fired manager Ron Roenicke.

Astros calling up prospect Lance McCullers for MLB debut

Houston Astros reliever Lance McCullers pitches against the Kansas City Royals in the seventh inning of an exhibition baseball game, Saturday, April 4, 2015, in Houston. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
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Earlier this week the Astros promoted 21-year-old pitching prospect Lance McCullers from Double-A to Triple-A, but now he’s making a slight detour: Houston will call up McCullers for his MLB debut Monday against the A’s.

The move was made because Brett Oberholtzer has a blister problem, so it’s unclear whether the Astros are considering keeping the 2012 first-round pick in the majors for more than a spot start.

McCullers struggled with his control last season on the way to posting a 5.47 ERA at high Single-A, but he racked up 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings to match electric raw stuff. This season at Double-A he was nearly unhittable, throwing 29 innings with a 0.62 ERA and 43/11 K/BB ratio.

Houston is a contending ahead of schedule and with McCullers and soon No. 1 prospect Carlos Correa on the way to the majors the talent level will rise even higher.