Shao-Ching Chiang may not be a household name among minor league prospects yet and is not even the top Taiwanese prospect in the Cleveland Indians’ system thanks to Yu-Cheng Chang, but the right-handed pitcher is off to an excellent start. We had the opportunity to watch Chiang face the loaded New Hampshire Fisher Cats on June 6 and speak with the Hualien native afterward.
Like most of Taiwan’s top hurlers, Chiang was signed as an amateur, avoiding the CPBL entirely and beginning his professional career in the U.S. minor leagues. Chiang inked a contract way back in September 2011 for $250,000 with the Indians, who have continually mined the island for amateur talent. Chiang is the fifth Taiwanese player to sign with the organisation. Despite now appearing in his seventh minor league season, Chiang has seen relatively little time on the mound as he blew out his arm during his first professional appearance and did not play a full season until 2016 as the recovery from Tommy John surgery took longer than average.
Despite having missed most of the 2012-15 seasons, the Indians returned Chiang to a starting role in 2016 with the Single-A Lake County Captains, for whom he had a 3.96 ERA in 27 starts and 152 1/3 innings. The right-hander exhibited signs of good control early in his career and delivered over a full season with a 92-to-26 K-to-BB ratio.
Last season, his age-23 campaign, saw more of the same as Chiang spent most of the season with High-A Lynchburg, where he recorded a 3.67 ERA and an 81-to-22 K-to-BB mark in 122 2/3 frames. Chiang even threw a no-hitter [Highlights]. Six starts at Double-A Akron were forgettable, as Chiang recorded a 6.61 ERA and 20-to-11 K-to-BB mark in 32 2/3 innings.
Still only 24, Chiang was assigned to the RubberDucks for 2018 and has had a breakout season, recording 10 quality starts out of 12 and continuing to show superb control. Rob Liu of CPBLstats.com provided us an initial scouting report, noting:
“[Chiang] throws a four-seamer that has sinker movement with his fastball topping at 96mph, changeup, curve, forkball. I don’t think he throws [the] forkball anymore. He added a slider to his pitching repertoire in 2017 as another out pitch.”
Based on these notes, we confirm that Liu’s observations as Chiang’s fastball sat 94-95 with easy delivery and hit 96 quite a few times. We saw plenty of his changeup, which was mostly at 86, occasionally slightly slower, with slurvy movement. His slider is not especially obvious and the righty did not use it often. The forkball appears to have been abandoned.
Chiang, who has averaged just under six innings this season, was pulled after five and 90 pitches, 59 of which were thrown for strikes. That two-thirds mark is slightly deceptive as Fisher Cats batters swung regularly at pitches just out of the zone, which Chiang commanded very well. Most importantly, he repeated his delivery with precision, with numerous photos revealing the exact same motion and release.
The 6-0, 175 hurler was dominant early, working quickly through the first four, but threw 35 pitches in the fifth as he walked Connor Panas on a full count and gave up a line drive home run down the right field line to Patrick Cantwell. Chiang then got three of the next four, surrendering a single to Bo Bichette.
Chiang allowed two earned runs on six hits, whiffing three. Of note to our readers is that Chiang was relieved by South African Kieran Lovegrove, who we profiled in this thread [link]. In fact, five Akron pitchers all hailed from different countries, with Dominican Henry Martinez, American David Speer, and Venezuelan Argenis Angulo finishing things off. In total, Chiang has a 2.90 ERA and a 54-to-13 K-to-BB rate through 71 1/3 innings this year, with his excellent 1.6 BB/9 matching his career rate.
After the game, we spoke with Chiang, who participated in the 2017 World Baseball Classic for Taiwan. As a reliever, he pitched 4.1 solid relief innings against the Netherlands, scattering five hits and a run in a 6-5 loss [Highlights]. We hoped to ask Chiang more about a light controversy during the WBC. According to Liu,
“There was some [discussion that] he felt discomfort in his hand after the Netherlands game. The rumour was that he did not had enough time to warm up in the bullpen [and] got called in with just eight-pitch warm up.”
Unfortunately, Chiang is very much still learning English and, while we could speak a small amount about his experience at the Classic, Chiang could not explain the minutiae of his bullpen work. He did, however, speak about how the experience has affected his preparation, and it is hard to argue with the results.
“[Playing in] the WBC was a big game so I think that it helped me a lot [mentally] and for my heart for [pitching in] a minor league game,” explained Chiang. “I think it makes me more confident. The WBC is a different level.”
Very earnest and unobtrusive given his frame, Chiang’s face lit up when asked about the honour of representing his country.
“It is my home, right, Chinese Taipei! I feel happy to wear the Chinese Taipei jersey and to play for [the country].”
Asked whether he hoped to play in the next World Baseball Classic, Chiang smiled as he agreed.
Should his trajectory continue along the path it has the past three seasons, it would be unsurprising to see Chiang take on a more prominent role in the next WBC qualifying rounds in 2020.