Stashing a player on the 25-man roster who holds a 13.50 ERA, while only pitching 10 2/3 innings through two months is not a typical move for a division leader. For a cellar dweller with no playoff aspirations, using a Rule Five Draft pick on Wei-Chung Wang would be looked at as a brilliant scouting victory. However, for the NL Central Division leading Brewers, the move has created a significant amount of controversy.
The Brewers have made no bones about the fact they are looking to contend this season, but holding a 21-year-old Rule Five pick that has never pitched above Rookie ball seems to be in direct opposition of the team's "win now" aspirations. SO the question becomes what exactly do the Brewers see in Wang to take the risk
General Manager Doug Melvin has made it very clear that the team views Wang in very high regards.
From an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Melvin was quoted, "We look at him as a player who would be a high draft pick (if in the draft last year or this year) and they aren't easy to find."
What is it that Brewers' scouts see in Wang to be confident enough to take him in the Rule Five Draft and what do they continue to see that makes them feel comfortable with Wang on the 25-man roster?
Standing at 6'1" 180 lbs. Wang is not the most intimidating presence on the mound, but his arsenal of pitches makes up for that.
His fastball has ranged anywhere from 89-96 in big league action, routinely sitting at 92-93. In spring training and when given a regular opportunity during the regular season, Wang has shown the ability to hit spots and keep his fastball in the lower part of the zone. Unfortunately with the amount of close games the Brewers have played, Wang has had some significant layoffs, including rest of 9, 10 and 12 days. Those kinds of lulls from game action are not ideal for a pitcher looking to keep sharp with location and feel for his pitches.
Wang's curveball is his best off-speed offering at this point. Its average speed has been 77.5 MPH. Again during the regular season, Wang has struggled to throw it consistently where he wants it. This can be attributed to the long delays, but also his lack of minor league development time. (I will get into this more later.) Dating back to Spring Training, Wang was throwing a very impressive breaking ball. At times he buckled the knees of both left and right-handed hitters with the pitch.
The change-up is still a work in progress. Learning this pitch will be one of the key's to Wang's development. The pitch shows a good speed differential and features a good amount of arm-side movement. However Wang has to learn to get the pitch down out of the strike zone. With the amount of movement he can get on the change, it could be a very impressive swing and miss pitch or one he uses to get soft contact.
The thing that has impressed me about Wang the most has been his poise on the mound. The kid has no fear. Whether it be starting hitters off with a curveball or attacking them with his fastball, he has shown the moxie you like to see from a pitcher. He is known to have very good command of his pitches and his rookie ball numbers show that with just four walks in 47 1/3 innings pitched. Although his big league numbers are not showing the same command it is important to factor in the excessive amount of days between outings as well as the incredible jump in level that Wang is trying to make.
A big part of what minor leaguers learn is how to be consistent day in and day out. Wang has shown flashes in the big leagues, he has thrown great breaking pitches, broken bat and struck out big name hitters. However he has not shown the consistency from pitch to pitch and that is the difference in a minor league and a major league ball player.
While I don't expect Wang to be an asset on the 2014 version of the Brewers, I completely understand the excitement about his future with the team. Left-handed pitchers that can throw mid-90s and show the type of poise that Wang show do not grow on trees. It isn't an ideal situation, but keep Wang as the mop up man to get some outs in low leverage situations can happen. In a future piece I will look into some of the creative ways Melvin can manipulate the roster to give the bullpen a little cushion with Wang in it.