SEOUL, June 11 (Yonhap) -- Pittsburgh Pirates' South Korean infielder Kang Jung-ho has taken a big step forward in his bid to return to the majors.
The Indianapolis Indians, the Pirates' Triple-A affiliate, announced Sunday (local time) that Kang has been promoted from Single-A Bradenton and will join their club for a four-game set against the Toledo Mud Hens this week. Kang jumped over Double-A Altoona.
Kang tore up Single-A pitching at the start of this month, batting .417 (10-for-24) with three home runs, 11 RBIs and five runs scored. He drew six walks and struck out three times, while splitting time between third base and shortstop.
Kang is looking to rejoin the Pirates this year after missing the entire 2017 season with some legal trouble in Seoul. He was only granted a U.S. work permit in April.
Kang was arrested and charged with fleeing the scene of an accident after driving under the influence of alcohol in Seoul in December 2016. It was his third DUI arrest in South Korea, and he received an eight-month jail term, suspended for two years, in March 2017. He lost his appeal two months later.
Though he avoided prison time, Kang was denied a work permit after his arrest and was unable to enter the United States to play for the Pirates. The club placed him on the restricted list in March 2017, and he remains there. Kang hasn't received any pay or earned major league service time since that move.
In this Associated Press file photo from Oct. 1, 2016, Kang Jung-ho of the Pittsburgh Pirates watches his three-run homer against the St. Louis Cardinals in the first inning of their major league regular season game at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. (Yonhap)
Kang tried to stay sharp by playing in the Dominican Winter League last year but was released by his club in November following an extended slump.
But the former Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) All-Star finally got his break in April when his work permit was issued. He reported to the Pirates' spring training facility in Bradenton soon afterward.
He immediately flashed the kind of power that made him a solid, middle-of-the-order option for the Pirates in his first two seasons there, though Triple-A pitching will certainly be more challenging.
Kang finished third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2015 after batting .287 with 15 home runs and 58 RBIs in 126 games. The following year, the South Korean had 21 homers and 62 RBIs, with a .255 batting average in 103 games. He is the first position player to jump from the KBO to the big leagues.
Kang recently told U.S. media that he has quit drinking, and his interpreter, Mark Kim, is doubling as his driver because he no longer has a driver's license.