Doug Melvin and his front office made a curious, and eventually controversial, decision in the 2013 Rule 5 Draft with the selection of Wei-Chung Wang. The then-22 year old left-hander had previously been a prospect in the Pirates organization who was coming off Tommy John surgery and had never appeared above rookie ball. The Brewers managed to hold on to Wang throughout the entire 2014 regular season and he’s remained with the organization ever since. But a report emerged earlier this evening that indicates that WCW’s time pitching for the Cream City Nine is coming to an end:
Rumour Milwaukee #Brewers Taiwanese LHP 王維中 (Wang Wei-Chung) might be heading to #KBO's NC Dinos. The 24-yr-old LHP is expect to leave for Korea the next few days to report to the team. cc @MyKBO & @sung_minkim pic.twitter.com/VLHgIXRQZv— CPBL STATS (@GOCPBL) January 19, 2018
#Brewers not commenting on report out of Korea that LHP Wei-Chung Wang but I have no reason to believe it's false. That will open a spot on the 40-man roster when it becomes official. Team would receive financial compensation as well.— Tom (@Haudricourt) January 19, 2018
As you may recall, manager Ron Roenicke was reluctant to deploy Wang from the bullpen at all in 2014, and he wound up appearing in just 14 games and tossing 17.1 innings that season while earning a full year of MLB service time. He was over matched against MLB hitters, allowing six homers and 21 earned runs. It has been suggested that his presence was detrimental and caused excess wear-and-tear on the rest of the relief corps that contributed to the team’s painful collapse, though it’s worth noting that he did have a lengthy stint on the DL that began in July from which he didn’t return until rosters expanded.
The Brewers gained contractual control over WCW after that and he reported to high-A Brevard County to start 2015. After a slow start to the year he was outrighted off the 40 man roster, but he wound up posting a 3.40 ERA across 26 starts (including one in AAA) and 145.2 innings with 5.9 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9. (I even got the chance to interview Wei-Chung while my wife and I were honeymooning in Florida that summer!) He split 2016 between AA and AAA and in 133.1 innings across both levels he totaled a 3.78 ERA with 7.7 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9. Even with that success, the Brewers left Wang exposed to the Rule 5 Draft in 2016, but no one took the opportunity to grab him.
The Brewers converted WCW to relief in 2017 and sent him back to AAA, but he thrived while pitching in the high-altitude of Colorado Springs. He appeared in 47 games for the Sky Sox and produced a shiny 2.05 ERA across 57.1 innings with 48 strikeouts and 12 walks. His performance earned him another shot at the big leagues in Milwaukee’s bullpen, although there’s no doubt Wang wishes things would’ve gone better. As a pure LOOGY, Wang appeared in eight games but faced only nine hitters. He retired four of them, including two via punchout. Five others got hits, including a home run, and two earned runs went against his ledger.
Wang was a different pitcher this time around in Milwaukee, brandishing a fastball that was clocked as high as 96 MPH after a full-time move to the bullpen. He’s also previously received very positive grades for his changeup and slider and has drawn praise for his ability to command the strike zone, although it’s worth noting that he’s never been exceptional at missing bats. But 2018 will only be Wang’s age-26 season, he’s flourished as both a starter and reliever in the minor leagues, and he still has an option remaining, so at first blush this move comes off as a bit puzzling. Ultimately though, Wang was a player on the fringes of a 40 man roster that includes four other left-handers and righty Oliver Drake, who saw lots of usage as a left-handed specialist last year. He was expendable.
For whatever reason, the new David Stearns-led front office was never as high on Wei-Chung Wang as the previous regime. If Wang does indeed leave to join the NC Dinos - Eric Thames’ former KBO squad - he’ll probably be able to return to a starting role and have a good shot to make more money than he would if he were to remain stateside. Given his demonstrated skillset and success in the upper levels of the minor leagues, it’s not difficult to imagine him prospering in Korea, either. Perhaps he’ll seek a return to the MLB down the road if he can establish himself a little more while pitching overseas.
If Wang is no longer in the picture, that would free up a spot on Milwaukee’s 40 man roster. Perhaps Slingin’ Stearns is hoping to fill that with a waiver claim or something along those lines. Maybe he’s got some bigger plans. For what it’s worth, he did have this to say the other day in an interview on 105.7 FM in Milwaukee:
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs
WCW will reportedly net a nice pay raise to pitch for the Dinos:
Rumour #Brewers 王維中 (Wang Wei-Chung) to receive a salary package between $800K to 1M USD from #KBO's NC Dinos. https://t.co/tqTXpJf16e— CPBL STATS (@GOCPBL) January 19, 2018