With Cole Hamels battling multiple arm issues and Felix Hernadez choosing to opt-out of the season because of the coronavirus, it seemed like Kyle Wright — the former 5th overall pick out of Vanderbilt — was poised to begin the season in the starting rotation. However, we are over a week into Spring Training 2.0 and less than two weeks away from Opening Day, and there’s been no sign of the 24-year-old right-hander. Instead, the Braves have rolled with Josh Tomlin, who will be making his second appearance and first start of Spring Training 2.0 today against Mike Soroka.
Perhaps the Braves are just stretching out Tomlin for a long-relief role. He thrived as a long reliever last year, and Alex Anthopoulos said weeks ago that starters will be limited to only a few innings their first couple times through the rotation. However, Wright’s absence suggests Tomlin may begin the year in an even more critical role, and over this weekend, Brian Snitker addressed why we have yet to see Wright make his Spring Training 2.0 debut.
More Snitker on Wright: "… So he was slow-played from where he was over the break, and when we got him in there and threw the first bullpen. That’s why it’s kind of staggered, because everybody’s at a different place.” (2/2)
— David O'Brien (@DOBrienATL) July 12, 2020
Maybe Snitker is telling the truth — all the travel and testing forced Wright to need a week to re-calibrate. However, it sounds like Snit is doing a bit of covering up for one of the Braves’ brightest prospects. To me, this reads as Wright hasn’t been throwing nearly as much as the organization would have liked while away because of COVID-19. If that’s the case, there’s no reason he should be considered for a spot in the starting rotation, and it will be an uphill battle for him to even make the Opening Day 30-man roster.
It’s discouraging because, coming into this shortened season, it appeared the Braves starting pitching depth would be a critical advantage for them. Now, without Cole Hamels, Felix Hernandez, and possibly even Kyle Wright out to begin the season, they may have to turn to Josh Tomlin as a starter, for who knows how long. Hopefully, Wright’s setback was merely incidental with everything going on, there is no underlying issue, and he’ll be back to his usual self in a matter of weeks. But if that isn’t the case, winning a third consecutive NL East title with the rotation candidates they have available will be much more challenging than initially thought. The Braves are one significant injury (or positive coronavirus test) to Soroka, Fried, or Foltynewicz from having a severe problem.