PHOENIX — The Brewers selection of pitcher Wei-Chung Wang was one of the more surprising picks of the December 2013 Rule 5 Draft. However, perhaps nobody was more surprised than Wang when he was drafted from the Pirates organization.
"I didn’t know this could happen," Wang said through interpreter Jay Hsu. "I thought I was traded. It was a big surprise. I learned about it at midnight at home in Taiwan from a friend in the minor leagues with the Orioles. I still feel like I won the lottery."
Wang, a 21 year-old left-hander was signed to a contract with the Pirates in 2011. However a physical revealed a torn ligament in his left elbow which voided the original deal. Wang signed a lesser deal with the Pirates later that year and underwent Tommy John surgery. Sidelined all of 2012, the southpaw debuted last year posting a 1-3 record with a 3.23 ERA in 12 games (11 starts) for the Pirates’ Gulf Coast League rookie squad. More impressively, he struck out 42 in 47.1 innings while only walking four.
Still, the 6-foot-1, 180-pounder knows that stepping up from rookie ball to the major leagues is a gigantic leap.
"It’s like swimming from Taiwan to the United States. I know it is going to be very hard. My older brother is in the Cubs minor leagues and I have friends from home with other teams. I know what they do People work their entire lives to get to this level."
Although projected as a starter down the road, Wang’s best chance to make the Brewers this year is likely out of the bullpen. He’s already been in Arizona working with Brewers pitching coach Rick Kranitz for a month. Wang says he is slated to throw his next bullpen Monday.
"I haven’t seen a lot of Wang," said Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy. "But I know he’s been throwing and that he’s got great control and a good changeup. I’m excited to see more of him."
As a Rule 5 draft pick, Wang must spend the entire season on the Brewers’ 25-man roster. Should Wang not stick at the major-league level with the Brewers, the team must offer him back to the Pirates for half of the original $50,000 drafting fee or work out other terms with the Pirates to keep Wang in the Brewers’ organization. And while very few Rule 5 picks pan out, there have been notable exceptions over the years, including pitchers like Johan Santana and Joakim Soria.
Wang, however, is less focused on what could happen than on the opportunity he has and the task at hand.
"I can do this. I know it’s a really hard thing. But this is what I’ve worked for and I know. I am excited to be here and want to get to work. I know I can do it."
The Brewers would certainly like to see Wang surprise again this spring.