Wei-Chung Wang seems like he's pretty awesome. He said he felt like he "won the lottery" coming to the Brewers in the Rule 5 draft from division-rival Pittsburgh. The coaching staff likes him and he seems like he is taking direction well. Second best of all? He's been pretty dominant this spring, tossing 8.1 innings without allowing an earned run while giving up just six hits
(Best of all is, naturally, his name, because everyone wants to Wei-Chung tonight)
Simply put, everyone seems to love Wang. But maybe it's time to temper that excitement just a little bit. Obviously, he has put himself firmly in the competition for one of the remaining spots in the Brewers' opening day bullpen. Rule 5 picks are often exciting propositions, at least I think so. But maybe it's time to temper expectations a bit on the 21-year-old left hander.
The obvious reason: The guy has played all of twelve games professionally in America, all of them in rookie-league ball. He was pretty successful, with a 3.23 ERA and 0.866 WHIP over 47 innings. A 42:4 K:BB ratio is also, well, pretty outstanding. But, yeah, rookie ball. Eight and one-third innings in Spring Training isn't exactly a big sample size, either. Wang's control has been impeccable as ever, but here's the thing: He hasn't exactly faced sterling competition this spring.
Wang has typically pitched later in games this spring, when teams have their backups' backups in the contest at several positions. Here is every batter Wang has faced this Spring, along with that batters' 2013 batting line and how many major-league games he played last year.
That is a list rife with failed prospects, fringe MLBers, and has-beens with one or two top prospects and two or three solid if unspectacular contributors thrown in. Certainly Wang has not been trying to put down Matt Carpenter, Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina in order. He hasn't even faced a Starlin Castro-Anthony Rizzo-Whoever-the-Cubs-third-'best'-hitter-is trio.
Wang has been great, but he's been great against competition that is, for the most part, vastly inferior to that he would face if he made the Brewers' big league roster. What this spring indicates to me is that Wang should be well and ready to succeed in more advanced levels of the minors and could certainly move up extremely quickly.
If the Brewers were in the same position as the Cubs are or as the Astros are, taking a risk on Wang wouldn't be terrible. If he fails, oh well. Those teams aren't expected to go anywhere anyway. The Brewers aren't rebuilding at this point. Signing Matt Garza is not rebuilding. Refraining from trading Carlos Gomez is not rebuilding. The Brewers think they can compete (and they can, if they get a couple breaks), and Wang may be a hindrance to that goal. The next two weeks will be big for him, as teams are cutting the players he has faced, leaving those that could actually be on a major league roster opening day.
I do hope the Brewers find a way to keep Wang in the organization. Obviously negotiating a trade with the Pirates for his rights would be ideal if he can't stay on the major league roster. Whether the Pirates would go for that is another question. He wasn't a typical Rule 5 pick -- the Brewers used a loophole that it sounds like many teams knew little about. The Pirates may want him back, particularly after his spring. But if there's a reasonable price, the Brewers would be wise to keep Wang in the organization. They just might not be able to afford to keep him in the majors.