Rule 5 pick Wang embraces challenge
PHOENIX -- Taiwanese left-hander Wei-Chung Wang knows his current undertaking will not be easy. It is not every day that a pitcher makes the leap from the Rookie level Gulf Coast League to the Major Leagues.
"I know a lot of people spend [so much] time to make a team. It's hard. I understand how hard it is," Wang said Saturday through translator Jay Hsu. "The feeling is like swimming from Taiwan to here, swimming in the ocean."
Wang also knows he is uniquely positioned to give it a shot. The Brewers selected the 21-year-old in December's Rule 5 Draft from the Pirates, and will have to keep him in the big leagues all season or offer him back to Pittsburgh. Brewers scouts love Wang's poise and his change-up, so they spent $50,000 and a 40-man roster spot for the right to evaluate him in Spring Training for a spot in the bullpen.
"I am still surprised," Wang said. "It's like a lottery."
Does he think he can win?
"I can do it," Wang said.
At first, he believed he'd been traded. A friend who pitches in the Baltimore system called Wang at about midnight in Taiwan after the Brewers had called his name at the Rule 5 Draft in Orlando. Eventually, a "shocked" Wang was filled in on the details of the draft, which offers opportunity to players left unprotected on their teams' 40-man rosters.
"The first couple of days, I could not sleep very well," Wang said.
He originally agreed to a lucrative international deal with the Pirates in 2011, but the contract was voided after a physical exam revealed a torn ligament in his pitching elbow that required Tommy John surgery.
Wang did not pitch at all in 2012, then went 1-3 with a 3.23 ERA in 12 games, 11 starts, in '13 for the Gulf Coast League Pirates. The Brewers loved the fact that Wang throws strikes -- 42 strikeouts versus four walks in 47 1/3 innings while holding opponents to a .209 batting average.
His fastball mostly sat at 91-93 mph, Brewers pro scouting director Zack Minasian said in December, touching 95 mph, with a change-up that is Wang's best pitch and a curveball that is developing but projectable. He throws from a high three-quarters arm slot.
Beyond his stuff, Minasian believes Wang will be bolstered by his experience pitching in Taiwan, where Wang was technically a professional.
Wang is feeling more comfortable now, in his fourth week of workouts at Maryvale Baseball Park. Wang has already thrown at least one bullpen session under pitching coach Rick Kranitz's watch, and expects to throw again Monday during the Brewers' first official workout.
As a bonus, Wang's older brother, Yao-Lin, pitches in the Cubs system and will soon be in Arizona for Spring Training.