Friday, December 13, 2013

Brewers draft lottery ticket in Rule 5

                Yesterday the Winter Meetings ended and unfortunately the Brewers were unable to fill their hole at first base.  They didn’t leave entirely empty handed though.  The Rule 5 draft took place yesterday and the Brewers were more active than they have been in recent years.  I won’t pretend to care about the minor league part of the draft, but I am intrigued by their major league selection. 
The Brewers drafted 21 year old Taiwanese left-handed pitcher Wei-Chung Wang from the Pirates.  He intriguing not because I think he can be good, though he could be for all I know.  He’s intriguing because I have absolutely no idea what he is at all.  I mean, yes, he’s a left-handed pitcher.  Aside from that, he’s a complete mystery.  This is because he’s only pitched 1 season in professional baseball and that was for the Pirates rookie league club.  He was only eligible because after the Pirates signed him, it was learned that he would need Tommy John surgery.  They voided his original deal and signed him to a lesser contract.  He immediately became eligible for the Rule 5 draft when his original deal was voided.
The way the Rule 5 draft works, the Brewers are going to have to keep Wang on their major league roster for the entire 2014 season or give him back to the Pirates.  There are ways to work around that by having him spend time on the DL with a “convenient” injury, but he would have to spend at least 92 days on the MLB roster.  Should the Brewers find a way to keep him on the roster for 2014, they will then be able to option him normally starting in 2015.  That would give him 3 years to develop in the minors.  I have no idea what his potential is, but the Brewers must think either he can be a quality reliever right now or a starter in the future.  That’s intriguing, especially for a club that has had such trouble developing starters, left-handers double so.
So what are the Brewers supposed to do with arguably the most inexperienced player in the major leagues for a season?  Well, clearly they will have to put him in the bullpen.   Because he’ll only be facing batters once a game, it’ll let him get by with lesser stuff.  That will also limit his impact (positive or negative) on the season.  To further aid him, the Brewers would likely only use him in lower leverage and mop-up situations.  Perhaps they will use him as a left-handed specialist.  (In general I’m against wasting a spot on a LOOGY but I’d make an exception here.)  They have at least one left hander in the pen with Gorzelanny, but he recently had surgery to clean up his shoulder and it’s not guaranteed he’ll be ready when the season starts.  They also have recently acquired Will Smith.  Doug Melvin said they will look at him as a starter in Spring Training and make their decision then.  I can see one of three things happening with Smith.  He could be the fifth starter for the Brewers which would allow Wang to take the LOOGY role.  He could pitch out of the pen and the Brewers could use 2-3 lefties (two of which may only be LOOGYs and that’s scary).  Or, Smith could start in AAA, which would also allow Wang to fill the LOOGY role.
I think there is a solid chance the Brewers take a look at Wang in the spring, don’t like what they see, and give him back to the Pirates before he ever pitches an inning.  Still, if he can survive in the bullpen for a season, he offers a lot of upside.  Or at least I think he does.  Even if he develops into just a back-end starter this was another savvy move by Melvin and the Brewers.  In a season where contending is a longshot at best, I think it’s worth the risk.

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