LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Brewers pro scouting director Zack Minasian could see the skepticism on his boss’ face when he first suggested selecting a 21-year-old Rookie leaguer in the Rule 5 Draft.
But general manager Doug Melvin let Minasian make his case, and on Thursday the Brewers made the move, nabbing left-hander Wei-Chung Wang with the day’s most creative selection. Wang will compete in Spring Training for a job in the Brewers’ bullpen, but he projects as a starting pitcher.
“Doug always encourages [Dick Groch, a Brewers special assistant] and myself to be creative, and this was one of those situations,” Minasian said. “When Dick and I first saw the name and that he pitched in the Gulf Coast League, we didn’t think there was a chance Doug would be on board with taking him. But he seemed open-minded to it this time when we told him what we saw in the player.”
By rule, Wang must make the Brewers’ 25-man roster for Opening Day and stay there for the entire season, or be offered back to the Pirates for half of the original $50,000 drafting fee. History says the odds are long; the Brewers have not kept a Rule 5 pick since reliever Jeff Bennett in 2004.
“We’re hoping for some upside here, coming off of Tommy John surgery [in 2011],” Melvin said. “It’s a chance to capture what we might consider a high-level prospect.”
Wang, born in Taiwan, was recommended by Brewers amateur scout Charlie Sullivan, the same man who recommended Melvin make a waiver claim for Grant Balfour coming off an injury in 2006. The Brewers wound up trading Balfour the following July, and he has turned into a top reliever.
Wang was not your typical Rule 5 pick. He agreed to a lucrative international deal with the Pirates in 2011, but the deal was scuttled after a physical exam revealed a torn ligament in his pitching elbow that required surgery. Wang re-signed with the Pirates later that year, so by rule he was eligible for the Rule 5 Draft unless protected on Pittsburgh’s 40-man roster. Had he signed with a different team, that would not have been the case. The Brewers had a similar situation with right-hander Cody Scarpetta several years ago and had to protect him.
Wang did not pitch at all in 2012, then went 1-3 with a 3.23 ERA in 12 games, 11 starts, in 2013 for the Rookie Gulf Coast League Pirates. The Brewers loved the fact he throws strikes — 42 strikeouts vs. four walks in 47 1/3 innings while holding opponents to a .209 batting average. His fastball mostly sat at 91-93 mph, Minasian said, touching 95 mph, with a changeup that is Wang’s best pitch and a curveball that is developing but projectable. He throws from a high three-quarters arm slot.
“The one thing with a Taiwanese pitcher is I think they technically pitch professionally, so one of the things that was mentioned in the report we got from Charlie Sullivan on Wang was he was very poised, under control,” Minasian said. “Now, whether he can do that in a big league stadium, we’ll just wait and see. But we’re excited to have the opportunity to see him pitch.”
Left-handed pitching is a big need for the Brewers, who had only one active southpaw on the 40-man roster (Tom Gorzelanny) before acquiring Will Smith from the Royals last week. Another lefty, Miguel de los Santos, remains on the restricted list pending a Major League Baseball investigation into his age and identity, and he may never pitch in the Brewers’ organization.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say we took [Wang] because he is left-handed,” Minasian said. “We liked him because of his upside.”
The Brewers also took two players in the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 Draft. Center fielder Kevin Mattison (formerly of the Marlins organization) and third baseman Vinnie Catricala of the A’s are likely ticketed for Triple-A Nashville.
Mattison, 28, batted .216 with seven home runs, 31 RBIs and 18 stolen bases for Triple-A New Orleans last season. Catricala, 25, was traded from the Mariners to the A’s in June and hit a combined .235 with seven homers and 47 RBIs in 109 games between Double-A Jackson and Double-A Midland. He was Seattle’s Minor League Player of the Year in 2011.
The Brewers did not lose any players in either the Major League phase or Minor League phases of the Rule 5 Draft.