Kyle Wright had an up and down 2020 season, but it appears he may have made the required strides to produce at the MLB level. It is still early on in Spring Training, but this doesn’t look like the same guy that pitched to the tune of an 8.69 ERA in seven appearances for the Braves last year.
Kyle Wright was everyone’s breakout candidate in Spring Training heading into the 2019 campaign, though his numbers were actually pretty lackluster. He did get off to a hot start similar to this year as well, so tempering expectations is justified:
Presented without comment:
Last year, Kyle Wright pitched 5 scoreless innings with 4 hits, no walks, & 6 strikeouts to start his 2019 Spring Training.
He did this over his next 4 appearances:
11.2 IP, 16 H, 13 R, 4 BB, 14 K, 10.03 ERA, 0.903 opp OPS pic.twitter.com/6ZCK78pkLJ
— Knockahoma Nation (@KnockahomaNTN) March 2, 2020
Regardless, due to some injuries, he had an opportunity to hold down a rotation spot early. Sound familiar?
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 began to 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.
With that being said, 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.
It appears Wright figured something out on the farm because he looks like a completely different pitcher this year in Spring Training. Sure, he has only made two appearances, and there is a chance he flops in the next month. However, his outing against Boston on Sunday was the most dominant I have seen him pitch since his college days. He went three innings, striking out five batters, and is still yet to give up a run this Spring. He looked sharp and stayed in the zone. This is the Kyle Wright the Braves had in mind when they selected him fifth overall.
With Cole Hamels sidelined, Wright may be able to force the Braves’ hand if he can continue to perform at this level. Now, it may be better for Atlanta to start with Sean Newcomb and King Felix at first, just so they have more options as the season progresses, and perhaps keep Wright down for a little more development. But if Felix looks like he does not have “it”, or the Braves ultimately decide to keep Newcomb in the bullpen, Wright will easily be the favorite. He may be able to take the job outright if he keeps this up.
The early performances from Wright are exciting, and while it is okay to temper expectations, it is time to buy back in. He has made the adjustments to live up to his potential fully, and Vanderbilt’s track record with pitchers speaks for itself. It is easy to forget Wright was drafted in 2017, and he is still on track to make a considerable impact for the major league club. Hopefully, that happens this season.