BRADENTON, Fla. (93-7 The Fan) – Spring Training is in full swing, but there are plenty of questions surrounding the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Last season did not go as planned for the Pirates as the failed to qualify for the postseason. It’s something that left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth within the organization.
“We sat on it all offseason and are very determined to turn things around in 2017 and very confident that we have the players in the clubhouse that can do that,” Coonelly said. “They know that they are a better squad than what our record showed in 2016 and they’re determined to demonstrate that on the field, which is the only place it matters,” Pirates President Frank Coonelly said during an interview with “The Fan Morning Show.”
One of the hot topics surrounding the team is the status of infielder Jung Ho Kang.
“We’re continuing to work with Jung Ho and his representatives to secure his work visa to travel into the United States. The work visa issue has been complicated by the criminal matter in South Korea, but we’re diligently working with he and his representatives to try and get him a visa so he can get into the country as soon as possible,” Coonelly said.
At this point, the Pirates can’t put a timetable on when Kang will return to the team. However, Coonelly is hoping that it’s sooner rather than later
“He’s engaged in baseball activities over there, but it’s not like being here in camp,” he said.
When Kang does return, many are wondering if Major League Baseball will take further disciplinary action.
“We’ve talked to Major League Baseball about where their head is and they also, like us, want to talk to Jung Ho when he gets back into the country before making any final decisions,” Coonelly said.
There will also be a support system involving the Pirates and MLB to help Kang.
“We have a support system in place for all types of player issues and issues relating to alcohol abuse,” Coonelly said. “We have a very strong support staff here. Major League Baseball, as I mentioned, also has medical representatives and so part of the treatment program will be constant evaluation and assessment of Jung Ho when he comes back over to the United States and we will bring our team here at the Pirates together to make sure that we support Jung Ho in changing those behaviors.”
Another big topic of discussion during the offseason was the situation involving Andrew McCutchen. From trade rumors to a position change, Coonelly said McCutchen has been a true professional.
“To still come out an open up his heart to Pittsburgh to tell them that all he ever wanted to be and wants to be is a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates and to win a championship for the people of Pittsburgh. Not too many players open their heart that way. So, that’s so gratifying for an organization to see that your superstar player has that mindset,” Coonelly said.
As for moving him to right field, the team began to entertain the idea a year ago.
“We talked to Andrew about potentially moving a year ago. We didn’t think it was the right time. We continue to look at the analytics and as Clint has explained, our analytics are confirming for us that our best alignment in the outfield is Gregory in left, Starling in center and Andrew in right because of their strengths,” Coonelly said. “He understands it was an organization decision and Andrew has always been about doing what is right for the organization. So, he’s accepted it and embraced it and is looking forward to being the best right fielder he can possibly be.”
Meanwhile, there’s another wrinkle teams are dealing with during Spring Training this year – the World Baseball Classic. Several key Pirates players, including the entire starting outfield are representing their countries in the tournament.
With that in mind, does the event serve the Pirates well?
“The World Baseball Classic is good for us because it’s good for Major League Baseball. It’s good for growing the game of baseball internationally, which is so important to us. We can’t be so myopic that we think that as long as we’re growing the game of baseball in the United States, which is critical, we’re doing all we can do. We really need to grow the game – it really is a great global game so this really showcases the tremendous sport and the pride for playing for your country,” Coonelly said.
Many have taken issue with the timing of the event. For example, the National Hockey League stops their season for two weeks so players can compete in the Olympics. However, that’s not something Coonelly would like to see.
“I wouldn’t want to stop our season for two weeks and have half of the players not playing at all and have us not having any games at PNC Park. So that doesn’t work. This is the only time that can work. Is it perfect? No, but is it a great exhibition of the wonderful game of baseball worldwide? It sure is,” he said.
Listen to the entire interview with “The Fan Morning Show” below: