Kyle Wright joins Braves bullpen for playoff push

Braves pitching prospect Kyle Wright.



Braves pitching prospect Kyle Wright.

It was the missed call of a lifetime, as Kyle Wright will remember it.

Triple-A Gwinnett manager Damon Berryhill called Wright around 11:50 p.m. Friday. Wright didn’t answer.

Berryhill left a voicemail: “This is Skip. Give me a call back.”

Wright, who’d thrown 15 relief pitches earlier in the night, checked his phone and was filled with excitement. There was only one reason Berryhill would call so late, he thought.

“I called him back and he said, ‘You’re going to the big leagues,’” Wright said. “I got hit by a bunch of emotions.”

And so another young pitcher joined the Braves’ surplus. They promoted Wright as rosters expanded from 25 to 40 players on Sept. 1; the latest feather in their cap as the great rebuild – centered on arms – propels them into first place.

The Braves selected Wright with the No. 5 overall draft choice in June 2017. The Vanderbilt ace was projected to be the first overall pick even a week before the draft. He slipped to the Braves, who felt they nabbed a seasoned product who perfectly fit their hopes to accelerate the timeline.

“We knew when they drafted him that it wouldn’t take him long to get here,” manager Brian Snitker said. “It’ll be interesting. I’m anxious to see him pitch.”

Wright’s leap was the quickest a Brave has made since University of Georgia lefty Alex Wood, who was drafted in 2012 and debuted in 2013. Even Wright didn’t expect his goal to materialize so quickly.

“Not really,” he said. “It’s something you dream about, but for it to actually happen is pretty crazy. For it to happen so quick, I never really expected it.”

The Braves were aggressive in promoting arms throughout the past four years, and that hasn’t appeared to change under general manager Alex Anthopoulos. Mike Soroka, Kolby Allard and Bryse Wilson were all 20 years old during their first starts. Touki Toussaint, who joined Wright and Wilson in Saturday’s promotions, is expected to start games down the stretch.

Snitker has managed his share of upstart pitchers this season, but like Wright, he views the latest promotion as a pleasant surprise, even though some believed Wright was major-league ready in 2017.

“It’s his first full year of pro ball,” Snitker said. “But people were under the impression last year when we drafted him that he probably would’ve fit in on this club then. I think it was more, this year, getting him acclimated to the professional routine and things like that. Very talented young man.”

After a slow start to the year, Wright stabilized and was promoted to Triple-A. He’d earned a 3.70 ERA across 20 starts in Double-A Mississippi. His performance jumped at the higher level, where he warranted a 2.51 ERA in seven appearances (four starts).

Part of Wright’s growth, he opines, is his increasing confidence in his changeup. The pitch had always been there, but Braves coaches – namely Double-A pitching coach Dennis Lewallyn – made him more comfortable relying on the pitch more often, in any count.

In speaking with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution before July’s Futures Game, Wright explained he’d discovered a more aggressive, attacking mindset that’s largely responsible for rapid rise.

"I stopped trying to be so refined with certain pitches and just attack better," Wright said. "I pitched a lot better and I've been more efficient, pitch deeper into ballgames. But at first, early in the year, I wasn't very efficient. Just giving up too many runs early, too many walks early. Ever since I attacked better, I've pitched a lot better, gone deeper in ballgames and given the team a chance to win."

Wright’s past three outings were in relief, a situation in which he hasn’t engaged since his freshman season at Vanderbilt. He threw three scoreless innings. The collegiate experience was easy to fall back on, he said, and other than a shortened pregame routine, little felt different in the new role.

When Wright was moved to the bullpen, he was informed he could move to the majors soon. He took it with the metaphorical grain of salt, focusing on adjusting to life in the bullpen.

His transition was multi-purposed: He’s already thrown 138 innings, so the move stalls racking up his frame totals. It also was to prepare him for the majors, where he’ll operate exclusively as a reliever through September.

“Anything is possible,” said Snitker, who watched a pair of Wright’s relief outings. “But right now we just foresee him coming out of the bullpen.”

Wright has the opportunity to not only impact a pennant race, but pave his way into the Braves’ 2019 plans, when they’ll be flush with pitching options. Snitker is a long-time subscriber of the reliever-to-starter method in cracking rookies in, so this could be viewed as the ideal situation.

His No. 73 jersey hung in his unlabeled new locker, aptly adjacent to fellow Vanderbilt alum Dansby Swanson’s. His parents were in Gwinnett on Friday, so it was an easy turnaround to be at SunTrust Park a day later.

The Huntsville, Alabama native, who fell in love with baseball while admiring the last Braves dynasty, could’ve just joined the next one.

“This is what you dream about doing,” Wright said. “To actually get to be up here and this clubhouse, and get to play for the team I rooted for coming up as a kid, is pretty special.”