After posting an ERA north of 7.00 through his first six starts in 2020, it appeared as if Kyle Wright was destined to once again put together an underwhelming performance at the big-league level. A 4.50 ERA in 2018, followed by an 8.69 ERA the very next season, we’ve grown accustomed to the right-handed Wright routinely coming up short with the major-league squad.
In a combined 25.2 innings from 2018-19 (featuring 4 starts and 7 relief appearances for Atlanta), the Alabama native put together a bloated 7.71 ERA, and his time as one of the Braves’ top-tier prospect pitchers was running out.
But Wright managed to rewrite his script during the latter portion of last year’s shortened season. In a September 20th outing at Citi Field versus the Mets, Wright won just his second decision of 2020 as he tossed a one-hit shutout that featured him pitching all the way into the 7th inning; the first time he had done so last season. With six strikeouts and just one walk on the day, his 76 Game Score that Sunday start was the best performance of Wright’s mostly-middling big-league career.
And for a moment, the excitement regarding his potential as a Braves starter was back.
It wasn’t just a fluke, either. Wright built off that outing against New York and followed it up with another strong effort versus the Red Sox in his final start of the 2020 regular season. He also earned a postseason assignment against the Marlins in Game 3 of the NLDS, where he again pitched well. In those last two regular-season outings, plus the one in Miami during the playoffs, Wright combined for 17 strikeouts over 19 innings while allowing just two earned runs.
However, as has been the case over the last two seasons, Wright’s success wouldn’t last, and in an NLCS Game 3 start versus the Dodgers, he was rocked to the tune of 7 runs on 5 hits. His momentum came to an immediate end at perhaps the worst time as Wright didn’t even make it out of the 1st inning. Once again, he entered the offseason on a sour note.
A new year… the same expectations
Fortunately, upside still exists for Wright. After kicking off the 2021 Spring Training slate with a dud against the Rays last Sunday, in which he allowed 3 runs on 4 hits in 1.1 innings, Wright will get another chance to impress Atlanta’s brass in a fill-in outing on Friday versus the Twins. With Max Fried reportedly (potentially) exposed to COVID, Wright needs to take advantage of this opportunity if he has any hope at all of landing a spot on the Braves starting staff this coming season.
Although there’s still the possibility that Wright or any “extra” starter isn’t needed to begin the 2021 season. With Fried’s situation obviously a short-term ordeal (if anything at all), Atlanta already has three other starters locked in, in Ian Anderson, Drew Smyly, and Charlie Morton. And with Mike Soroka‘s outlook looking very promising regarding his return from injury, that’s five out of five arms for the big-league starting staff, and there’s no indication that the team is interested in opening the season with a six-man rotation.
Of course, the chances of all five guys getting through the year unscathed is highly unlikely, which is where Wright could fit in if he shows he’s capable over the next month.
Compared to the other “depth options” available for the Braves, Wright still possesses the highest ceiling as a starter. In terms of pitchers that have had a taste of the majors thus far, his competition this spring includes Bryse Wilson (smaller arsenal), Touki Toussaint (serious command/control issues), Huascar Ynoa (great stuff but same issue as Touki), Josh Tomlin and perhaps Tucker Davidson.
It may be an unfair assessment given his low innings total in the majors overall, but over these last three seasons, Wright hasn’t lived up to what we thought he’d become. As the 5th-overall selection in the 2017 draft, the Braves have rightfully wished for more. The truth is, now entering his age-25 season, Wright’s running out of opportunities to prove that he can become the consistent starting pitcher Atlanta drafted four years ago. Hopefully, Friday’s game against Minnesota will be a start to what ends up being a strong spring camp. Because if it’s not, Wright may not receive any more chances.