Brewers could have Rule 5 gem in lefty reliever Wang
I remember sitting in the crowded room at the 2013 Winter Meetings Rule 5 Draft. I had a fairly good sense of almost every potential player who could be selected early that morning.
The Brewers selected Wei-Chung Wang, a left-handed pitcher from the Pirates organization. It was apparent I hadn't done my homework because I was not familiar with Wang. I wasn't alone. There were a considerable number of "Who?" and "What?" comments floating around the room when his name was called.
But the Brewers had, indeed, done their homework.
As it turns out, Wang was signed by Pittsburgh in October 2011. Because he required Tommy John surgery, his contract with Pittsburgh was voided and a new deal was structured. His new agreement invoked a little-known rule that required Wang be protected on the Pirates' 40-man roster or be subject to the Rule 5 Draft.
And that's how the 21-year-old native of Taiwan landed on the Brewers roster. The Brewers paid the Pirates $50,000 for the right to draft Wang.
I was shocked again when I learned that the Brewers had selected him knowing he had pitched only 47 1/3 innings for Pittsburgh's Gulf Coast League team. He had started 11 games of his 12 total appearances. He posted a 3.23 ERA and an 0.86 WHIP, walking only four and striking out 42. Yes, it was only a part of one season, but it was formidable. His surgery appeared to have been a success. His career was off and moving in the right direction. And the Brewers were aware of that.
Wang is ranked No. 11 on the Brewers' Top 20 Prospect list.
I got to see a lot of Wang during Spring Training in Maryvale, Ariz. Pitching eight out of nine outings from the bullpen, Wang was impressive.
He showed an outstanding calm and cool mound demeanor that looked like he was born to pitch. He had a feel for pitching that came through in his sequencing and command of each pitch in his repertoire. He had a deceptive array of pitches that included a mid-90s fastball, a solid changeup and a wicked curveball.
It was his curveball that caught my attention. Wang buckled the knees of both right- and left-handed hitters. He doesn't discriminate. He uses that curve at any point in the count or as an out pitch with great confidence. He threw 14 innings, giving up 15 hits and no walks. He struck out seven, and the opposition hit .283 against him. He had a WHIP of 1.07. It was a solid spring that launched him to the big league club as part of the 25-man Opening Day roster.
When the Pirates decided to expose him to the Rule 5 Draft, they probably thought it was unlikely that a club would select a player with only part of one professional season. And for a team to keep him, Wang must remain on the roster for the entire season or be offered back to Pittsburgh for half the purchase price, or a total of $25,000.
The Brewers have gotten off to a strong start. They are winning. Pitching and hitting are blending together nicely. Wang is in the bullpen for Milwaukee. He has appeared in only two games, going two innings. He was touched up in his second outing.
Now the Brewers have to make the decision. Do they keep Wang and allow him to virtually miss development time in the Minor Leagues? Do they offer to make a trade with Pittsburgh to keep Wang and be able to send him out for seasoning? Or, do they offer him back to the Pirates at half the original cost? Not to mention that Wang's Tommy John history has to figure in the equation somewhere as well. And given the repeat elbow surgeries we've seen recently, that has to be in the conversation.
Lefties like Wang -- with composure, command, control and a full repertoire -- are in high demand. The Brewers may well keep him around and then use 2015 to return him to development in the Minor Leagues. His arm may be too solid and his upside too valuable to take the chance of not retaining him for the full season.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.