The Milwaukee Brewers surprised a lot of people during the Rule 5 draft when they selected left-handed pitcher Wei-Chung Wang from the Pittsburgh Pirates, drafting the lefty out of the GCL. Wang was eligible for the draft due to a technicality with his signing. When he originally signed with the Pirates, his contract was voided due to an elbow issue. Wang had Tommy John surgery, then signed a second contract. Players who sign a second contract with an organization are eligible for the Rule 5 draft immediately, even if they haven’t been in the league for 4-5 Rule 5 drafts.
Wang returned from Tommy John surgery in 2013, and had great numbers in the GCL, while flashing a fastball that hit mid-90s, and some good off-speed stuff. He had the look of a potential middle of the rotation lefty, if he could work out as a starter.
When Milwaukee took him in the Rule 5 draft, it seemed unlikely that they would be able to protect him all year. Today it seems like a guarantee that Milwaukee will be able to keep Wang on the roster, despite being in first place.
The Brewers placed Wang on the disabled list today with shoulder tightness, after calling up top prospect Jimmy Nelson for tomorrow’s start. A Rule 5 player can only be kept if he remains on the active roster or the disabled list all season. He must spend at least 90 days on the active roster to remain with the new team. Wang has already spent 90 days on the active roster with Milwaukee. Now they can stash him on the DL until the end of the season, or until rosters expand in September, at which point it won’t matter if he’s on the active roster.
This is a process familiar to the Pirates, as they did the same thing in 2009 with Donnie Veal.
It’s hard to blame the Pirates for this situation. The odds of a guy going from the GCL to the majors, and sticking, are small. The odds of it happening for a contender are even worse. If the Pirates would have protected Wang, then they would have had to speed up his development by starting the process of burning his option years. He could have gone to West Virginia as a starter this year, and he could have had one year at each level (I believe he would have qualified for a fourth option year under this scenario). That leaves no margin for error with his development, and would have made it less likely that he would have realized his upside.
Wang was ranked 30th overall in our prospect rankings prior to the Rule 5 draft.