Wang hopes 2014 experiences help him get back to majors in future
MILWAUKEE — For a 21-year-old fresh out of rookie ball, pitching in the big leagues customarily isn’t the next step. But it was for Wei-Chung Wang.
Everything about Wang’s case was unusual. He was only eligible for the Rule 5 Draft because he signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates in the same year after his original international free-agent contract with the club was voided due a physical revealing a torn left elbow ligament.
Picked by the Milwaukee Brewers in that draft, Wang then beat the odds to make the Opening Day roster thanks to a strong spring training in which he flashed his talent.
The Taiwanese left-hander wasn’t ready to pitch in the big leagues, but his future potential led the Brewers to keep him around. Put in a tough spot, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke didn’t trust Wang to use him in anything resembling a close game.
Wang went over a week without pitching six different times, going as long as 14 days between outings on one occasion. Such is usually the life of long reliever, but it is tough on a young pitcher who is used to pitching regularly.
"It was really tough mentally because I was waiting every day, and I kept waiting," Wang said through his translator, Jay Hsu. "I was just waiting for an opportunity to pitch."
When the now 22-year-old did get his opportunity, he struggled. It was a lot to ask of Wang to have success in the big leagues at where he was in his minor-league development, but not pitching habitually couldn’t have helped.
Wang allowed 21 earned runs in his first 17 innings with the Brewers for an 11.12 ERA.
"I’m very appreciative of the opportunity to be here," Wang said. "I know not a lot of people can be like me at this young age at this level. I can watch the veterans and see what they do, the adjustments they make and the routines they have.
"I also learned how to use pitch selections that I wasn’t thinking about before. It is a good experience for me. I can see everything here and learn from it. When I had to wait for a while, I learned how to make adjustments."
As a Rule 5 pick, Wang had to be kept on Milwaukee’s 25-man roster for 90 days to retain his rights or else he had to be offered back to the Pirates for half the cost of acquiring him in the draft . Once the 90 days were up, Wang was placed on the disabled list on July 10 with left shoulder tightness.
Wang began a minor-league rehab assignment on Aug. 3. He was stretched out to work as a starting pitcher, as six of his seven minor-league appearances were starts. Between Milwaukee’s rookie level team in Arizona, Class-A Wisconsin and Class-A Advanced Brevard County, Wang posted a 2.33 ERA with just four walks and 22 strikeouts in 27 innings.
"I was really happy that I could pitch regularly as a starter on the rehab assignment," Wang said. "I could pitch multiple innings. That is what I like."
The next step in Wang’s development will be in the Arizona Fall League, where many of baseball’s top prospects gather to finish their seasons. The AFL begins play Oct. 7 and runs through the middle of November. It will allow Wang to make up for some of the innings he lost while stashed in Milwaukee’s bullpen.
While he admitted to not knowing much about the AFL, Wang feels he’s ready for the challenge.
"I don’t think the challenge will be bigger than the big leagues," Wang said. "Since I’ve already been up here, I will know how to prepare for it."
"It was a big experience for me. I could see everything. I learned how to make adjustments."
The Brewers wouldn’t have held onto Wang had they not felt strongly about his future potential as a starting pitcher. He will be thought of as one of the top prospects in the organization moving forward and will likely begin next season with Brevard County.
Although 2014 was certainly a strange year for Wang, he feels it will help him earn his way back to the big leagues in the future.
"Because I have already been here, I know how to prepare," Wang said. "Hopefully I can use to come back here."
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