Developing Wei-Chung Wang

Wei-Chung Wang isn’t a prospect in the typical sense – he’s already accrued a year of major league service time after the Milwaukee Brewers chose him in the 2013 Rule 5 Draft. At this point, however, he’s probably more well-remembered by the casual fan for his contributions on the dance floor than his contributions on the mound for the 2014 Brewers: 17.1 IP, 10.90 ERA, 10.61 DRA, and -1.3 WARP.

The Brewers selected Wang from the Pirates rookie league affiliate knowing that he’d be a project, though. Despite his poor showing in the big leagues the Taiwanese lefty showed enough during his minor league rehab assignment (26.1 IP, 2.39 ERA, 22:4 K/BB) and an Arizona Fall League stint (23.0 IP, 2.74 ERA, 12:2 K/BB) that Baseball America considered him a top-10 prospect for Milwaukee entering the 2015 season. After a year in The Show, Wei-Chung was assigned to high-A Brevard County to continue his minor league development as a starter.

The Florida State League is considered a pitching paradise thanks to the run-suppressing humidity and cavernous ballparks, but it certainly didn’t seem that way for Wang at first. Through his first 12 starts in Brevard County Wang was only able to manage a 5.93 ERA and saw a significant uptick in his walk rate (8.3 percent) and WHIP (1.66). I had an opportunity to speak with him around that time and Wang attributed his struggles to focusing too heavily on throwing his curveball, causing him to lose feel with his fastball and have trouble locating.

The Brewers were obviously concerned with the struggles as well, and on June 16th, 2015, they designated Wang for assignment to clear room on the 40 man roster for Matt Dominguez. That lead Tom Haudricourt of the Journal Sentinel to pen an article entitled “The Brewers Had High Hopes for Wei-Chung Wang,” which felt like a postmortem of sorts of the young lefty’s career. On the other hand, Craig Counsell said at the time “I don’t think you’re giving up on Wei-Chung Wang. He still has a chance to be a major league pitcher.”

Thanks in part to a high salary for a low-level minor leaguer (it’s stipulated that the salary of a player on the 40 man roster cannot be cut by more than 20% from the previous year, meaning Wang was making in excess of $300,000), Wei-Chung wound up clearing waivers and was outrighted off the 40 man roster. He was ultimately able to stay in the Milwaukee organization. Looking back, that may have been exactly the wake up call that the 23 year old needed.

Wang finished the season with a flourish, posting a 1.59 ERA in his final 14 starts of 2015, covering 85.0 innings. He slashed his walk rate nearly in half to just 4.7 percent while posting a 51:16 K/BB ratio and tossing three complete games. Wang’s game is more about controlling contact than it is overpowering batters, and he was masterful during the final three months of the season in allowing just a .224 batting average against and two measly home runs.

So far that success has carried over to the AA level in 2016. Wang has been a major part of a standout starting rotation for the 15-5 Biloxi Shuckers. In four starts and 22.0 innings, Wei-Chung has posted a 3.27 ERA and 18:8 K/BB rate while allowing opponents to hit just .210 off him.

Earlier this season our own Travis Sarandos noted that it has been nearly three full years since a left-handed pitcher has started a game for the Milwaukee Brewers. While Josh Hader has been receiving most of the attention (and deservedly so) for his excellent work with the Shuckers, we shouldn’t make the mistake of overlooking Wei-Chung Wang, who has been hard at work over the past nine months trying to re-establish himself within the organization. Wang’s arsenal still features a starter’s three-pitch mix with a low-90s fastball, big-breaking curve, and a deceptive changeup. Now 24, he’s experiencing the kind of success the organization surely envisioned when they brought him into the fold and he still looks the part of a future mid-rotation starter.

With questions surrounding Hader’s physical ability to handle a starter’s workload and his issues working past the fourth or fifth inning this season, it may very well be that Wei-Chung Wang has the best chance to become the next lefty fixture in the Brewers’ starting rotation. Only time will tell, but there looks to still be a good chance to get some excellent value from a prospect whose future was in jeopardy just a short time ago.

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