The 2013 Rule 5 draft is underway, and the Pittsburgh Pirates surprisingly lost Wei-Chung Wang to the Milwaukee Brewers. The move wasn’t expected for the reason that Wang has only pitched as high as the GCL. It also wasn’t expected because Wang signed his contract in October 2011. Most players from the draft are high school players from the 2009 draft and college players from the 2010 draft. Wang wouldn’t have normally been eligible until the 2015 draft.
The reason Wang was eligible here is because his original contract with the Pirates was voided. The Pirates originally signed him for $350,000, but the deal was voided due to medical concerns which led to Tommy John surgery. They re-signed him to a second deal and he underwent the surgery. Any player whose original deal is voided becomes Rule 5 eligible the next draft, no matter when they signed their contract.
On the surface it would seem that Wang has no chance of sticking. He has only pitched 47.1 innings in his career, and all of those came in the GCL. The jump from the GCL to the majors is a massive one. In order to fully lose Wang, the Brewers would have to keep him on the active roster all year. I don’t think there’s a strong chance Wang is protected, but I wouldn’t rule out the possibility. He’s got some impressive stuff, getting his fastball up to 93-94 MPH consistently at the end of the year, and touching 95 which is where his velocity was pre-injury. He also has a really nice curveball which could be classified as a plus offering. Here is a video of Wang in his final start in the GCL.
The combination of his fastball velocity, his command, and his plus curveball from the left side could give him a chance to stick. It’s still a long shot, but not as impossible as you might think. We had Wang rated as the number 30 prospect in the system, with a grade of 5.0, which profiles as a #3-5 starter or a closer candidate in the majors. In the short-term, Milwaukee could stash him as a second lefty in the bullpen. If Mike Zagurski can keep getting picked up by every team in the majors, then I’d say there could be a chance that a young lefty with a 93-94 MPH fastball and a plus curve could be protected.
It’s a tough situation for the Pirates because you don’t want to protect Wang on the 40-man. He would use all of his option years in the lower levels, and would need to eventually be rushed to the majors with no options. They could have rushed him by keeping him as a reliever, but he’s got more upside as a starter. If he doesn’t stick in the majors all year they would get him back, unless they were willing to work out a trade to let Milwaukee keep him.
The Pirates didn’t take anyone in the draft. They also didn’t lose Zack Thornton, who was a popular name in the Rule 5 previews.
In the Triple-A phase, the Pirates lost Charlie Cutler and Roberto Espinosa. Cutler is an organizational catcher in the upper levels who played for Altoona last year. He was selected by the Cubs. Cutler hit for a .298/.397/.420 line in 255 at-bats in his fourth season in Double-A this year. Espinosa is a lower level organizational right-hander who was selected by Toronto. He had a 2.55 ERA in 24.2 innings in the Jamestown bullpen this past year, with good strikeout rates but poor control. We had both players graded as career minor leaguers.
The Pirates took three players in the Triple-A phase. They took Tyler Sample, a right-handed pitcher from Kansas City in the first round. He was a third round pick in the 2008 draft, and was rated the number 14 prospect in the Kansas City system after the 2008 and 2009 seasons. He is 6′ 7″, 245 pounds, so he will fit right in with the other right-handers in the Pirates system. Pinetar Press has a report on him from 2012, saying he throws 91-94 MPH, touching 96 out of the bullpen. They have him graded as an organizational arm who could get a cup of coffee in the majors. He has stalled out in high-A with a 5.43 ERA in 277 innings over the last three seasons.
With their second pick, the Pirates took right-handed pitcher A.J. Morris from the Cubs. Morris was a fourth rounder in 2009, originally drafted by the Washington Nationals. He was traded to the Cubs in 2011 in a deal that sent Tom Gorzelanny to Washington. Morris was rated the number 18 prospect in Washington’s system after the 2010 season. He’s got a 93-95 MPH fastball out of the bullpen with heavy sink and an extreme ground ball rate. In 2013 he had a 62% ground ball ratio. He worked between the rotation and bullpen at the Double-A level in 2013, putting up a 4.75 ERA in 72 innings, with a 6.6 K/9 and a 4.4 BB/9.
The Pirates finished the Triple-A phase by taking right-handed pitcher Felipe Gonzalez from the Yankees. He’s a 22-year-old pitcher who has only played as high as the GCL. He had a 2.23 ERA last year in 48.1 innings, with an 8.4 K/9 and a 3.2 BB/9. In my initial search I couldn’t find much information on him, but based on his career progression he looks like a lower level organizational guy.
All three players the Pirates added profile as organizational depth. Sample and Morris have good stuff, but the odds are pretty good they will just end up the next Ethan Hollingsworth, possibly putting up good numbers in Altoona next year. Gonzalez could end up pitching in the lower levels, possibly helping to fill out the new Bristol roster.