Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Jung Ho Kang has been denied a work visa, leaving the South Korean unable to enter the United States and his status for the 2017 season in doubt.
According to a Korean media news report Friday, the U.S. Embassy rejected Kang’s visa application.
Kang was convicted in South Korea earlier this month after leaving the scene of a DUI accident on Dec. 2 in Seoul. He received a suspended eight-month jail sentence and recently filed an appeal, which will reportedly be heard in early April. It was Kang’s third drunk-driving arrest in his home country after previously being charged in August 2009 and May 2011.
Kang is also suspected of a drunk-driving offense in a country other than Korea or the U.S., according to the Korean news outlet.
Pirates team president Frank Coonelly responded to the report with a statement Friday.
“A Korean news outlet has reported on a purported development in Jung Ho Kang’s effort to secure permission to travel to the United States for purposes of continuing his career as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates,” Coonelly’s statement read, “and added speculation regarding a driving incident in a ‘third country.’
“The facts, as we know them, are that Kang still has not been granted permission to travel to the United States under a work visa. We continue to work with Kang and his representatives to present materials and information to the appropriate parties in the United States government that we believe establish that Kang should be permitted to travel to the United States under a work visa and we remain hopeful that such a resolution will be reached in the near future. We have no indication that Jung Ho has had a driving incident in a country other than Korea.”
Kang has been the Pirates’ starting third baseman for the last two years, and David Freese is expected to fill that role in his absence.
Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said Thursday that Kang will not be ready for the season opener on April 3.
“We’re to a point in time where it’s unrealistic to think Jung Ho’s going to be ready for Opening Day,” Huntington said. “We remain optimistic we’re going to get him here hopefully sooner than later. Now the challenge is if we don’t, if it takes some time, we’ve built this club and feel good about the guys we have here.”
Kang finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2015, after batting .287 with 15 home runs and 58 RBIs in 126 games. Last season, he had 21 homers and 62 RBIs, along with a .255 batting average, in 103 games.
Kang, who is in the third year of a four-year, $11 million contract he signed with Pittsburgh in 2015, reportedly agreed to participate in an alcohol treatment program in the U.S.
“We’re focusing on the men we have here. That’s the best I can tell you,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle told MLB Network radio on Friday morning. “We’d love to have him back. We don’t have him back. We’re going to adapt, improvise and overcome.”