Rookie's rise gives Brewers scouts butterflies
MILWAUKEE -- Brewers Rule 5 Draft pick Wei-Chung Wang officially made the unprecedented jump from the rookie leagues to the big leagues on Monday night, and he said he made it through a scoreless inning against the Cardinals by "trying to pretend I'm not nervous." Up in a suite, Brewers pro scouting director Zack Minasian knew the feeling.
Many Brewers officials had a hand in the unorthodox selection of Wang, from area scout Charlie Sullivan all the way up to general manager Doug Melvin, but Minasian is in charge of the team's Rule 5 Draft prep, and he had a close eye on Wang since the 21-year-old left-hander first arrived in Spring Training.
He had to wait until the Brewers' 13th game of the season to officially debut.
"It was fun to watch," Minasian said Tuesday, a day after Wang threw 13 pitches, nine strikes in a scoreless ninth inning against St. Louis. "You definitely feel a large responsibility … Charlie Sullivan was probably nervous watching it. He sent me a note today.
"For the pro scouting staff, we just try to put players in order and make our recommendation. I feel like we put him in the right order, and that led to Wang being here. Any time a guy you acquire goes out and performs, there are butterflies."
Wang was not your typical Rule 5 pick. The native of Taiwan agreed to a lucrative international deal with the Pirates in 2011, but the deal was scuttled after a physical exam revealed a torn ligament in his pitching elbow that required Tommy John surgery. Wang re-signed with the Pirates later that year, so by rule he was eligible for the Rule 5 Draft unless protected on Pittsburgh's 40-man roster. The Brewers had a similar situation with right-hander Cody Scarpetta several years ago and had to protect him.
Wang did not pitch at all in 2012, then went 1-3 with a 3.23 ERA in 12 games, 11 starts, in 2013 for the rookie Gulf Coast League Pirates. Now he is in the Major Leagues, and by rule the Brewers must keep him there, or offer him back to the Pirates for half the original $50,000 claim fee.
The Brewers' hope is that Wang throws enough strikes to be effective in long relief this season. Then they could decide in the fall whether to convert him back to a starting pitcher.
"Our hope is that our starting pitching is good enough this year that we can basically steal a prospect," Minasian said. "The thing I tried to sell was, if we agree with Charlie's report, if you put this kid in the [June] Draft, this kid would be a legitimate first-round pick and maybe a Top 10 pick. I compared him to a guy everyone is talking about now going No. 1, Carlos Rodon. I said, 'If we could take Carlos Rodon right now and just put him on our Major League roster, would we do that? Would we give up a spot for that?'"
The Brewers were willing to do it, especially in light of forfeiting their first-round Draft pick last year for signing free-agent starter Kyle Lohse. Wang was rated Milwaukee's No. 11 prospect by MLB.com entering this season.
Minasian stressed that Wang's debut on Monday night was only a first step.
"You have to put it in context; it's only one inning," Minasian said. "But for the guy to go out and throw strikes after such a long layoff, to be on the attack, it was fun to watch. I'm happy for the kid."