Olympic Gold: Wang Has Top Prospect Glow

Was he a stud or just a huge dud? That was the big question coming into this season for those who follow Yankee prospect, Chien-Ming Wang. This was the season for Chien-Ming Wang to prove that he was worthy of the monster $1.9 million that the New York Yankees gave him a few years back. This was also the season that experts say his shoulder would be back at full strength after he underwent major surgery over two years ago. Finally, it was time for the real "Tiger" Wang to emerge.

Chien-Ming Wang was one of Yankees biggest International signings of all time and he came right into the organization and was just what the Yankees could hope for. Here is a guy that is a national hero in his homeland of Taiwan and was considered as a huge investment toward the Yankees future. Many scouts figured at the time that if Wang were to enter the draft, he would likely warrant a 1st round selection. So, it would seem at the time that Tiger Wang was well worth the $1.9 million that the Yankees threw at him. Things couldn't be better for him as he was on top of the world, a giant of fame in his country and at the top of the New York Yankees prospect list. Not to mention, the Yankees were happy to have him aboard as well. At the age of 19 years old, things were lined up for Wang to be a Taiwanese pioneer. Well, it could have worked out that Wang became the first Taiwanese player to play in the Major Leagues. However, he was beaten to the punch. The story of Chien-Ming Wang saga appears to have a happy beginning and now it seems to have a happy ending as well. But, things did not look this way about two and a half years ago. But, Tiger Wang is roaring back and that glow that he possessed when the Yankees signed him has returned.


Of course, for obvious reasons, Chien-Ming Wang was surrounded by nothing but hype after the Yankees signed him to his monster contract for a player that never played a Major League game. With that hype, would come a high demand for a good performance. It was big day in the life of Chien-Ming Wang when the Yankees inked him, as the fourth ever Taiwanese player, to a professional contract. The moment was huge for the nation of Taiwan as well. A Taipei press conference was held as Tiger Wang donned the pinstripes and fulfilled his lifelong dream. It was another Evil Empire victory as the Yankees had once again out bid the Braves, Rockies, Mariners, Red Sox, Diamondbacks and Orioles for his services. But for Wang, he wouldn't have it any other way. "The chance to compete in U.S. baseball is my greatest dream, particularly by joining the Yankees, who have won 25 World Series titles," Wang told Baseball America through an interpreter.  "I'm honored that I will join my idols Roger Clemens and Orlando Hernandez as teammates. I am so excited I can't sleep." Wang was not the only one happy about the situation either. Here is what the Yankees coordinator of Pacific Rim Scouting, John Cox had to say about Wang as he spoke with Baseball America. "We're very proud of Wang," Cox said. "He's got size, almost a perfect delivery, great arm speed and we expect big things from him." "Most pitchers when faced with losing a run will let the pressure influence their delivery. That's not the case with Wang," Cox said. "Our scouts noticed that Wang's delivery becomes faster the tighter the jam. He throws his best pitches when the game is on the line." Well, that is not a bad trait to have when playing for a perennial post season participant organization like the Yankees. Even though he wouldn't join his idols right away, the then 19 year old Wang was ready for action starting in the 2000 season.


Tiger Wang would begin his quest for his ultimate goal of making it to the Major Leagues in 2000 when the New York Yankees assigned him to the Staten Island Yankees. "Growing up in Taiwan, I had heard so much about the Yankees but had never even seen them on TV," Wang told SLAM! Sports. "I watch Roger Clemens on TV whenever I can, he's amazing." He already was as hyped as possible and his prospect glow became even more blinding as he performed beautifully in his first professional season. For the season, he tossed 87 innings, striking out 75 batters and compiling an impressive 2.48 ERA. What more could the Yankees have asked for in his first professional season? Not much really. It looked like there big money was well spent. However, things would come crashing down for Tiger Wang in 2001 just when it looked like his career was going to leap one giant step closer to the big leagues.


The Taiwan Wonder looked like he was going to steamroll through the minor leagues after his impressive Staten Island debut. However, things came to a crashing halt when Wang was forced to undergo major arthroscopic surgery on this right shoulder. This would cause him to miss the entire 2001 season and would end up being a major setback for the righthander. However, his dream would not be allowed to be shattered that easily. He returned to Staten Island in 2002 and absolutely dominated. In 12 games, he went 6-1 with a minuscule 1.60 ERA while striking out 62 batters as well. Not to tarnish his great 2002 season but it was obvious that Tiger Wang was playing below the level he should be at and that fact was that he still did not have his full strength back in that shoulder. That chink in his armor would be exposed in a big way as he would jump all the way to AA Trenton and have a very pedestrian season in which he compiled a 4.65 ERA. However, one can't fault Wang for this. It is well documented that when healthy, Chien-Ming Wang can consistently hit 95 MPH on the radar gun. But during the 2003 season in Trenton, he struggled just to throw 90 MPH. This was not a a fully recovered Wang and the organization knew that. Typically and historically, shoulder surgery's like Wang had do not allow a pitched to return to full form until over two years after. After the 2003 season ended, that made two full years since Wang returned from surgery. So, was there new life to be expected from him in 2004? You bet.


Despite the disappointing 2003 season for the Taiwan Wonder, he has still given a great honor by being named to the World Team roster in the annual Futures Game. Also, he had some off season accomplishments that breathed new life into him as well. Wang pitched for the Taiwan Baseball Team in the Asian Games and as the apparent ace of the staff, he led them to a berth in this year's 2004 Olympics in Athens. Either way, Wang would have to repeat in AA Trenton in 2004. He came back strong in 2004 as he did a solid job for the Thunder. He posted a solid 4.05 ERA to go along with a 6-5 record. Another impressive statistic was that Wang struck out 90 batters while walking only 26. He also ate up 109 innings for Trenton. This performance was more than enough to earn a promotion to AAA Columbus in late July. It was there that he once again became that Taiwan Wonder that the Yankees signed for $1.9 million.


Suddenly it happened. Chien-Ming Wang once again became the guy that they once thought he would be. It may have gradually began in AA Trenton but it was obvious when he pitched for the Clippers. All of a sudden, he was that big time pitcher that the Yankees thought he would be. He is throwing 96 MPH again with that good slider and incredible command. Maybe it is his amazing drive that he has to get to the big leagues or maybe it is just that he is that good. However, it is probably more so that we just forget that, after undergoing the serious surgery that he did, the recovery time for returning to complete form is over two years. Well, the real Chien-Ming Wang is back and they Yankees are thrilled for good reason. So far in Columbus, Wang has compiled a 2.84 ERA and has a 3-1 record. But, the important thing is that Tiger Wang has his electric stuff back. There is a very strong chance that the tall righthander will be a September call up this year as well. It is incredible how quickly he has turned his career back around to become a possible MLB star in waiting.


But, wait, we are going to have to take a break from the Chien-Ming Wang showcase for a while as he has recently left the team to play for the Taiwan Olympic team. Wang is a very proud member of that team and that was part of his contract when he joined the Yankees. As Wang takes off for Athens and prepares to go for the gold with Taiwan, it may be only a tease for the glowing star career that he may have ahead of him for the New York Yankees.

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