This time last year, Kyle Wright was everyone’s breakout candidate in Spring Training, and due to some injuries, he even had an opportunity to hold down a rotation spot early.
Unfortunately, Wright did not perform well, and things got worrisome back down in AAA Gwinnett. In five April starts, he gave up 22 earned runs in 20.1 innings, and his stock was starting to undergo a free fall.
The Braves’ bullpen problems at the big leagues did not help his development, either. He was repeatedly called up to have an extra arm after troublesome outings, simply to be sent back to Gwinnett days later without making an appearance. Regardless, his issues in 2019 were primarily mechanical.
Don’t let the numbers fool you: Wright restored his prospect stock with his second-half performance. From June on, he only allowed more than three earned runs twice between AAA and the big league club. His peripheral stats never fell out of line; it was his opponent’s ability to hit the long ball and the significant drop in his groundball rate that made him suffer in 2019.
Now, Wright is staring at a pivotal 2020. The hope is that his late-season adjustments will translate to this season, which seems likely. A poor 2019 is the lone outlier on his resumé, especially given the great tools that made him a top pick, and the track record of top picks in the draft from Vanderbilt. But he is a boom or bust prospect for 2020. He will compete with Sean Newcomb for the fifth starter spot but will have to show a lot to earn the job over Newk, Felix Hernandez, and others.
If he has another flop of a season, it is time to be concerned. He’s already taken a backseat in organizational ranks to the likes of Ian Anderson but is still considered a top 50 prospect. That won’t be the case if he does not rebound into form quickly. The minor leagues exist for a reason, though, and that is development. Two horrid months of pitching should not alter the long-term view of a top prospect. He has the size, the elite fastball, and breaking stuff. Now it just needs to come together at the highest level.
At 24-years old, this is Kyle Wright’s time to make his mark. Given how good Newcomb was out of the bullpen last year and the few lefty options the Braves have outside of Will Smith, he has the perfect opportunity to join the rotation and stick for the long term.
The most likely scenario is that Wright will start the year at AAA. While he may have turned things around in 2019, the Braves have a lot of options, and he needs to show more consistency at the upper levels. It is a long season, though, and despite his struggles in 2019, Wright still received several chances in Atlanta. At the very least, we should see him in a handful of appearances in 2020, especially assuming he performs up to his old standards.
Kyle Wright could give this rotation a big-time boost, and he could end up struggling in AAA. He has the talent level, no question about it. It will be a matter of the results he can put together, and how things play out in the Braves’ rotation.