Kyle Wright is pitching his way into the Braves rotation. No one, including the team’s general manager, believed that would be the case last month.
Wright, whom the Braves drafted fifth overall in 2017, continued his brilliant spring Monday. He pitched three scoreless innings against the Pirates before things got away from him in the fourth, resulting in two runs. They were the first runs Wright had given up in his three appearances. The Braves defeated the Pirates, 6-2, in the Grapefruit League game.
“I thought it went pretty well,” he said. “Four-seamer was good. Curveball was good. Cutter was good. The only pitch that really wasn’t there was the two-seam. I was just trying to get back in the zone. I probably should’ve thrown a few more four-seams, but other than that everything felt pretty good.”
The Braves entered spring training with one rotation spot available behind Mike Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb, Kevin Gausman and Julio Teheran. They needed at least one of their prospects to blow them away and take the spot; Wright is on his way to doing so.
Wright has allowed two runs while striking out 11, five on Monday, in his three outings (eight innings). He’s coming off his first taste of the bigs – a brief stint last September as a reliever – and is positioning himself to make his first major-league start in the season’s early days.
“The stuff has been sharp, it’s been crispy,” said bench coach Walt Weiss, who’s filling in for Brian Snitker while he attends to a personal matter. “A couple very impressive outings. ... He’s in a good place. The fastball command, a lot of swings and misses with the breaking ball. He’s throwing the ball really well.”
His velocity is covering in the mid-90s. The command of his off-speed has been exemplary. He fanned two Pirates in the first inning on breaking balls and kept them off-balance most of the day.
“I thought I threw some really good breaking balls to get ahead in the count and get back into counts,” he said. “I threw some to put guys away too.”
He was an advanced prospect coming out of Vanderbilt, but Wright has made notable strides even since last season. He routinely preaches an “attacking mindset,” which has result in only one walk across three appearances.
While Wright is viewed extremely highly in and outside the organization, he wasn’t expected to break out this soon. He was supposed to be on the peripheral of the fifth starter competition, not the forefront of it.
“We love the ability, a top-five pick, long-term, but I wouldn’t have told you that I thought coming into camp he’d be right there battling for a rotation start with the way he’s throwing,” general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. “The fact he was able to string together those two outings against New York was fantastic … against the Cardinals as well. So I’ll be curious if he can keep it going. But he looks great. Stuff looks great. He’s right there in the mix with the way he’s throwing the ball.”
Wright spent the winter working out at Vanderbilt, overseen by pitching coach Scott Brown and director of player development Brandon Barak. They gave him instant feedback as he refined his arsenal, preparing for what could be his first full year in the majors.
There’s momentum abound, but Wright hasn’t secured anything. Touki Toussaint fired off his second consecutive impressive outing Monday as well. Max Fried has had a nice spring and holds an experience advantage. Those three will be pivotal to the club regardless of their roles.
But one circumstance is becoming clearer: The Braves are going to be a better team with Wright’s contributions.
“That’s not my call,” Wright said on starting the season in the majors. “Whatever Snit and Alex decide to do, that’s what they decide to do. I’m going to keep preparing the best I can and be ready for the season.”
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