Rays Prospect Profile: #49 Kyeong Kang

We continue the Rays 2012 Top 50 Prospect Shuffle with a look at outfielder Kyeong Kang, who comes in at #49 in our rankings and was the first Korean born player to be drafted in the Major League Baseball June Amateur Draft. Inside we have a full scouting report, analysis of his 2011 season at AA Montomery and a look at what his future may be in 2012 and beyond.

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Kyeong Kang

Position: Outfielder
Bats: Left
Throws: Left
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 200 lb.
Born: 2/6/88 in Busan, South Korea
Age: 23
High School: Parkview H.S. (Liburn, GA)
Acquired: Drafted in the 15th Round of the 2006 MLB June Amateur Draft by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Signed For: $75,000

Player Background

Kyeong (aka K.D.) Kang moved to the United States at age 14 from South Korea. After spending two years in Alabama he and his family moved to the Atlanta, GA area after his parents read an internet article on Parkview High School and 2002 1st Round Draft Pick Jeff Francoeur and decided that Kyeong needed to go to school there to further his baseball career.

While he played baseball and struggled to adjust to the culture and language of the U.S. he was discovered by Devil Rays scout Milt Hill. The franchise drafted Kang in the 15th round of the 2006 draft, and he became a draft-and-follow player after the organization sent him to Chattahoochee Valley Community College in Alabama. The Rays eventually signed Kang in 2007 after he significantly lowered his signing bonus demand which was reported to be upwards of a million dollars.

He started his pro career that same Summer in the Appalachian League for the Rookie level Princeton Rays. He hit .276/.341/.429 in 203 at bats while playing exclusively in left field. The following season he was promoted to the Rays Short-Season A affiliate in Hudson Valley, where he was named the Renegades Player of the Year and made the New-York-Penn League All-Star team. For the season he hit .278 with 28 extra base hits and 43 runs batted in in 255 at bats and led the team in total bases and slugging percentage.

His 2009 season found him playing for the Low A Bowling Green Hot Rods after spending six weeks in extended Spring Training and by this time his name had begun to generate some buzz in prospect circles. He was named to represent the World in the 2009 MiLB Futures Game showcase and had a break-out season of sorts for the Hot Rods. His slash line read .307/.390/.491 and that made him the team leader in all three categories. He also drove in 42 runs in 316 at at bats and hit 29 doubles.

In 2010 Kang was again promoted, this time to the High A Charlotte Stone Crabs in the Florida State League. After his successful 2009 campaign, the season was a disappointment as his batting average dropped over 60 points to .241, and he managed to hit only one home run.

2011 Performance

Kang spent all of 2011 at AA Montgomery where he split time between right and left field. It was a bounce-back season of sorts for the 23 year old, as he finally displayed some in-game power by hitting 11 home runs in 316 at bats. In the previous three seasons combined he had hit only 12, so the power spike at a higher level was a good sign from Kang. He also improved his average to .263 and rediscovered his patience at the plate by walking 53 times and posting a .384 on base percentage.

Diving deeper into the numbers, there was another encouraging sign from Kang in 2011. He had a line drive percentage of 25.6 which was the fourth highest rate in the entire system for players with more than 200 plate appearances. This is indicative of a return to a line drive approach at the plate, that as you will see in his scouting report, is the natural result of his swing when he is going well at the dish.

Overall his 2011 season was a significant step forward and a return to the level of play he displayed at Bowling Green in 2009. It is significant that his power and patience at the plate returned after being promoted to a higher level in the system, and his poor 2010 may have been just an anomaly.

Scouting Report

The scouting report on Kang coming out of High School was that he had good power and plus speed but was pretty raw as a player. In January 2010 Jim Callis of Baseball America gave this assessment of Kang from the supplement section of their Prospect Guide.

"Kang's hands generate above-average bat speed, and he makes consistent contact and drives balls into the gaps with his line-drive approach. He needs to improve his strike-zone judgment and trust his hands more consistently. A streaky player, he tends to overswing and try to muscle the ball with his shoulders when he falls into slumps. Though Kang has plus speed, he lacks instincts in the field and on the basepaths. His defense has improved considerably, but he's still just an average left fielder with a fringy arm."

That assessment certainly rings true when you take a look at Kang's minor league numbers. Until last year he had never hit more than 6 home runs in a season or stolen more than 10 bases. He has also played almost exclusively in the corner outfield spots, showing a severe lack of range despite his alleged plus speed. (I've seen Kang run and although I'm not a scout, I think his speed is only a tick above average) If you take into consideration Callis's comments about his "instincts" then you have to wonder if Kang will ever be able to translate his speed and power tools into on-field production.

For the most part, Kang has a good approach at the plate, a good batting eye and developing power. He doesn't do anything exceptionally well, or possess that one tool that really makes scouts drool. On the other hand, he doesn't really have any glaring weaknesses, so at some point he will need to develop at least one area of his game significantly to have a shot at making the Majors.

Future Outlook

Kang will most surely man a corner outfield spot for the AAA Durham Bulls next season. If he can build on the successes of last season than he may have a chance at seeing the Major Leagues. However, given the fact that he doesn't do anything exceptionally well, it is hard to project his ceiling being any higher than that of a bench or role player in the big leagues, and in my estimation he is more likely to be an organizational player because he just doesn't hit for enough power as a corner outfielder to play consistently in the Majors. While it is certainly way too early to completely write Kang off, he will be 24 at the beginning of next season, and must show something in his performance this season to have a future with the Rays.

It is worth noting that Kang is Rule 5 Draft eligible and was left unprotected by the Rays. As I sit hear typing this sentence, the draft is a mere 12 hours away. I am still on the fence about his prospects of being drafted and I have seen no indication that any team has been considering him. However, as stated before, he doesn't have any glaring weaknesses and if there is a team that needs a fourth outfielder they may be willing to take a chance on Kang's power continuing to develop. He showed enough last year at the AA level to restore hope that he may eventually figure it all out. In other words, there is the possibility that he may be in another organization by the time you read this.

Ranking Philosophy

Kang was at one time regarded to be an up and coming prospect in the Rays system, and he was routinely ranked as being one of the top hitters in the organization in 2008-10. His stock has dropped significantly in the last two years, and his selection to the Futures Game in 2009 seems like forever ago. A large part of this has to do with the fact that the Rays' system was pretty thin on hitters until the last two drafts, so Kang's limited upside stood out a little more

I have yet to see Kang ranked in the Top 30 on any other site's Top Prospect list. So other writer's and I seem to be in consensus on his potential. It is difficult to rank him too highly given his limited upside, age, and ceiling as a bench player. He could figure it all out very soon and prove us all wrong, but at this point he just doesn't have that one tool or skill that separates himself, especially after the last two drafts when the Rays restocked the farm system with legitimate position prospects. There are simply too may outfielders with better tools and higher upside.

John Gregg is Publisher and Senior Editor of Rays Digest. You can follow him on Twitter at @RaysDigest. He can also be reached via e-mail at raysdigest.com@gmail.com.


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