During the 2013-14 MLB offseason, the Milwaukee Brewers made a nearly unprecedented move by taking a pitcher from Rookie level ball in the Rule 5 Draft. When the Brewers chose the 21 year old Taiwanese lefty Wei-Chung Wang from the Pittsburgh Pirates, they added a young, talented arm to their system that they could control for several years in the future if they could sneak him through a season as the 25th man on the roster.
While Wang’s results at the MLB level were pretty awful in 2015, not much could have been expected from a player who had never pitched above the Gulf Coast League before. Wei-Chung did achieve a cult following due to the popularity of his teammates’ “Wei-Chung Wang Wednesday” dance videos on Instagram, and also impressed during a month long minor league rehab assignment, posting a 2.39 ERA and 22:5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 26.1 innings across three levels. For their patience, the Brewers were rewarded with the rights to Wang going forward, and Baseball America ranked him as the organization’s 6th best prospect following 2014, despite his year of MLB service time.
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This season, Wei-Chung has found himself back down on the farm, been honing his craft for the Brewers high-A level affiliate, the Brevard County Manatees. Wang has experienced mixed results, posting a 5.73 ERA and a 32.8% ground ball rate through his first 11 starts. Wang has been able to limit opponents home runs (giving up just four on the season) and has posted a FIP of 3.76, though both his strikeout (16.4% in 2015, 18.1% career) and walk percentages (8.0% in 2015, 5.3% career) are worse than his career averages.
Last week, I had the opportunity to take in a Manatees game at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Florida while on my honeymoon. Wei-Chung was the scheduled starter for the game the following game (on June 6th), and was in the stands charting pitches on this night. Following the game, I had a chance to catch up with Wei-Chung Wang (with help from his interpreter, Jay Hsu).
Kyle- What was it like pitching in the big leagues last year for the Brewers?
Wei-Chung Wang- Down here (in the minor leagues), you can make mistakes because both the hitters and pitchers are still learning. In the big leagues, if you make a mistake, the hitter isn’t going to miss it.
K- What about your performance this season for the Manatees? You’ve struggled a little bit.
WCW- My biggest focus in spring training this year was on my curveball, my weakest pitch. Perhaps I have been focusing too much on trying to throw my curve, and I have lost some feel for my fastball. This has led to far too many walks this season.
K- The advanced stats say you may be suffering from some bad luck this season, given your high BABIP rate (.357 despite low 32.8% ground ball and 13.6% line drive rates) and low FIP. Do you look at the advanced stats at all, or do you focus more on the traditional things like wins and ERA?
WCW-Wins and losses mean little at this level of the minors, so I don’t really pay attention to my win-loss record and I don’t look at my ERA. I keep my focus on the things I can specifically control during the games I pitch, especially walks and home runs.
K-How did you get into the game? Who were your favorite players growing up in Taiwan?
WCW-In Taiwan, baseball is the national sport and nearly everyone follows it. My older brother Yao-Lin has always played baseball as well, so I wanted to be just like him and play baseball. Besides my brother (who pitched in the Cubs farm system until last year), Ichiro is a player that I, and just about everyone I grew up with, greatly admired.
K-What are your goals for the rest of the season? When should we expect to see you pitching in Milwaukee again?
WCW-In order to be successful, I need to have command of all my pitches. I have been allowing to many players to reach base by walking them. This means that I will continue to try and get the feel for my fastball back on the mound while also working to improve my curveball. I want to be able to settle into a rhythm on the mound here in Brevard County and be able to consistently have strong starts. My goal all season has been to earn a September call-up when rosters expand later this season, and that hasn’t changed.
K-Well thank you for your time tonight and I look forward to hopefully seeing you pitching in a Brewers uniform again this season!
WCW-Thank you for the opportunity.
In his start on the 6th, Wei-Chung was able to finally put things together, pitching 5.1 innings while giving up just one run. Though he gave up seven hits, he didn’t walk a single batter for just the second time this season. Wang struck out four and induced 11 ground balls to the 25 batters he faced. If Wang can continue to build off this encouraging start, he could find himself back on track for a promotion to Milwaukee when rosters expand in September.