The Glendale Desert Dogs of the Arizona Fall League finished their season yesterday. With it, the Brewers prospects also finished their season and can settle in for an offseason routine now. One of those players is Wei-Chung Wang, who got some time in the Arizona Fall League after a season of light usage in the majors. His results so far, along with his unique situation, have made choosing a starting spot for him this spring an interesting decision.
Let's start by taking a look into his stats. Here's what he did between his minor-league rehab and the Arizona Fall League in 2014:
|Brevard County (High-A)||2||9.2||1.86||1.53||8.38||26.5%||0.00||0.0%||0.00|
|Glendale (Arizona Fall)||6||23||2.74||3.64||4.70||13.3%||0.78||2.2%||0.39|
Small-sample size alert here (of course), but overall, the results are very encouraging. The biggest concern here is a dip in the strikeout rate in the Arizona Fall League, but that could be the result of experimenting with his pitches while there. His walk rate remained low and the ERA/FIP were still good (even accounting for a rough final game). Plus, the Brewers were encouraged by his performance in the Arizona Fall League (more on that later).
It's certain that Wei-Chung Wang will be in the minors to start the season. The question that remains is how to progress him within the time they have. When he is sent to the minors this spring, he will have three option years available to progress. He will only have these three years, as he has already exceeded the maximums for earning a fourth year. This means that if the Brewers want to get a great return from Wang, optimal progression through the minor-league system will be needed. Taking him off the 40-man roster to save those options is not an option either, as that will expose him to waivers and potentially the Rule 5 draft again.
If the Brewers want to give him adequate time at each level to develop, the best starting place would be High-A Brevard County. This would potentially give him a year at High-A Brevard County, a year at Double-A Huntsville/Biloxi, and a year at Triple-A Colorado Springs. It would be the most stable way to send him through the Brewers system, and has been how the Brewers tend to handle their minor-league pitchers. For example, here is Jimmy Nelson's progress through the minors:
2010: Rookie-level Helena (Full Season)
2011: Class-A Wisconsin (Full Season)
2012: High-A Brevard County (April - June) & Double-A Huntsville (June - August)
2013: Double-A Huntsville (April - June) & Triple-A Nashville (June - August)
2014: Triple-A Nashville (April - July)
Obviously, Nelson also had a few appearances with the Brewers in 2013, and then joined the Brewers full time in July 2014. The pattern shows a stable progression through the minors, with the only jump being a quick stay at Brevard County.
There is a question of experience here as well, though. Before 2014, he had only logged in 47 1/3 innings of professional baseball in the Pirates system. This season, between all of the levels he pitched at, it was only an additional 67 1/3 innings (with some additional simulated game innings). If there is a concern with that experience, Class-A Wisconsin would be a good starting point. However, that would also mean a quicker progression through the different levels of the system, which is not ideal.
The Brewers could also consider a bigger move and put him at Double-A Huntsville/Biloxi if he's ready. This would be a big jump, but with the way he performed in the Arizona Fall League, it may be one he would be ready for. Originally, I thought this was an unlikely option, but a strong fall has made it a possibility. From Tom Haudricourt:
Gord Ash also told me that LHP Wei-Chung Wang made so much progress in Arizona Fall League that might open in Double-A next season.— Tom (@Haudricourt) November 14, 2014
The Brewers had a high view on him when they took him in the Rule 5 draft, and that continued through the season as Wang sat on the 25-man roster, even as the Brewers needed the roster space. Following his performance in his rehab appearances and his Arizona Fall League season, that view is still high and could mean a higher placement to start 2015. If he can handle it, it could mean he's helping the Brewers in the majors by 2017.
What do you think? Based on what you have seen of Wei-Chung Wang so far, where would the best starting place be for him in 2015? Would you take a reserved view and start him lower in the system, or make a bolder move and place him higher?