Right-hander Bryse Wilson is set to begin this season at Triple-A Gwinnett after he was among the players optioned by the Braves on Friday. That whittles the field of pitchers vying for two rotation spots down to three: Felix Hernandez, Sean Newcomb and Kyle Wright. Wilson had an outside shot to make the rotation, and he's still only 22 years old, but his rapid rise through the organization has stalled.
The Braves selected Wilson in the fourth round of the 2016 amateur draft out of Orange High School in Hillsborough, N.C. He debuted in the majors at age 20 in 2018, but hasn’t been able to stick. Wilson has a very good fastball, so his future essentially comes down to his ability to develop effective off-speed pitches.
Wilson had a strong big-league debut in Pittsburgh on Aug. 20, 2018. He pitched five scoreless innings with five strikeouts, three walks and three hits allowed. But Wilson got knocked around in two relief appearances later that season. It happened again when he was thrown into the fire to start the second game at Philadelphia last season, and the results didn’t get much better in three other starts spread throughout 2019.
Baseball America ranked Wilson as the No. 80 prospect before the 2019 season. He dropped out of the top 100 for this year. He’s behind fellow Braves prospects Wright (No. 64) and Ian Anderson (No. 44). Wright and Anderson are still with the big-league team in spring training.
Wright was set to start Friday’s game against the Red Sox. In his first two outings he posted five scoreless innings with seven strikeouts and zero walks. Anderson has allowed one run over 2-2/3 innings with four strikeouts, two walks and five hits. Wright and Anderson likely are long shots to begin the season with the big-league club, but both are making a case.
Wilson couldn’t do it. He was tagged for five runs over 5-1/3 innings in the Grapefruit League with two strikeouts, two walks and eight hits allowed. In Wilson’s last outing, Thursday against the Pirates, he lasted just two-thirds of an inning, with a two-run home run among three hits allowed.
Results aren’t everything in spring training, but the Braves apparently aren’t satisfied that Wilson has made enough progress with his off-speed pitches. Wilson’s change-up has been pretty good, and he said he was working on a slider during spring training. Developing those pitches in the minors will be key because major-league hitters have sit on his fastball, which he’s thrown 72 percent of the time per FanGraphs (the MLB average for a starting pitcher typically is about 55 percent).
Two major projection systems disagree on whether Wilson eventually will end up making a significant contribution to the big-league Braves this season. PECOTA says he'll pitch a few ineffective innings. ZiPS likes Wilson better than Newcomb and Wright. It could go either way or somewhere in between for Wilson, who has plenty of potential.
The Braves will need another starting pitcher at some point this season because that’s how it always goes. (Their improved bullpen depth means they are less likely to need help there.) Whether Wilson gets the call again could depend on how much he can polish his off-speed pitching at Gwinnett.
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