Toolshed: Top Braves pick shows Wright stuff

Vanderbilt hurler trying to stand out in system loaded with arms

Kyle Wright has struck out eight of the 22 batters he's faced in the Gulf Coast League. (Bill Setliff/MiLB.com)

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com | July 28, 2017 11:00 AM ET

Kyle Wright knows a thing or two about trying to stand out in a crowd.

In 2015, he began his Vanderbilt career in the bullpen as future first-rounders Carson Fulmer and Walker Buehler worked as the primary starters for the Commodores. His sophomore season, he lined up behind 2016 first-rounder Jordan Sheffield in the rotation. He showed enough promise his junior year to be mentioned as a potential top-five pick in the 2017 Draft, perhaps even No. 1 overall, earning a chance to be the best arm in his first farm system. One of those things came true: He was taken fifth by the Braves, an organization that has eight top-100 prospects, five of which are pitchers.

Wright is ready for this challenge, too.

"It's healthy for everyone involved, I think," he said. "It's going to make the Braves better. Going to Vanderbilt, it helped me a lot because there was so much knowledge all around me. You could see how they handled things and put that into your own game. Depth like this is something to be embraced, for sure. I just think I'm lucky to be a part of these guys."

There's no doubt the 21-year-old right-hander has the talent to stand out, even in a packed system. MLB.com placed him at No. 4 in the system in its latest prospect ranking update, between Kolby Allard and Mike Soroka -- two teenaged phenoms already in Double-A whom Wright said he's been following on social media since before the Draft in June. Wright also checks in at No. 35 overall, 10 spots behind Allard and 22 behind Buehler. All four of his pitches were given at least above-average 55 grades on the 20-80 scouting scale with his fastball at 60 for its ability to sit mid-90s and hit as high as 97. At 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, his size adds to his high ceiling.

Standing out will take some time, of course. The Braves gave him six weeks off before his first pro start and moved him to the Gulf Coast League to begin his career. What's more, his three stints have been short -- 1 2/3 innings in his debut on July 17 and two frames in each of his last two starts. That's understandable after the Alabama native pitched 103 1/3 innings this spring, and Wright has taken to the assignment with aplomb as he tries to make the transition to the pro game.

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"For one thing, it's the same game, college or professional. I'm still preparing to work every day just the same" he said. "But five-day preparation is different than seven-day, and that's probably the biggest change for me. I'm trying to get a five-day plan that's going to let me be successful and healthy going forward, and that's always going to take some time."

Wright is hitting the marks so far, pitching on July 17, 22 and 27 in the GCL. But he's also gone from throwing at least 6 2/3 innings in his last eight starts for Vanderbilt to only two frames at maximum so far in Florida. The right-hander isn't trying to treat these starts any differently, even though he knows he's going to be making a quick exit.

"When you've only got two innings, you want to make them good," he said. "But I'm not looking to do anything different in a short start. I've got my pregame routine the same like I was going to go seven. I look at it all the same. I'm not trying to ramp up or down, whatever the case may be, just because I know how short the start is going to be. I have full intent with all of my pitches regardless. That's just how I pitch."

The strategy seems to be working so far. Wright has allowed just one run on three hits and two walks over his 5 2/3 innings in the GCL. He's struck out eight of the 22 batters he's faced and held opponents to a .150 average through his first three starts. Those types of complex-level results might be expected from a college pitcher of Wright's experience level and talents, no matter the size of the sample, but they remain encouraging after his layoff and the way Wright ended his NCAA career. Pitching against Oregon State on June 10, the Commodores starter allowed seven runs on eight hits and three walks in 6 2/3 innings in a 9-2 loss that knocked Vandy out of the NCAA Super Regionals.

That left a bad taste in Wright's mouth two days before the Draft was set to begin, but it did not wipe away the gains he had made his junior season. He had started with a 4.81 ERA over his first eight starts heading into an April 14 start against conference rival and eventual College World Series champion Florida, when he got to work with associate head coach Scott Brown and fellow pitcher Matt Ruppenthal, who was taken in the 17th round by the Astros, on some mechanical changes.

"I was rotating my hips way too fast -- that's what we figured out," he said. "There were many timing issues that came from that, so I tried to slow things down, get back in to rhythm, get things on time best I could, and that's when things really clicked."

The result was a nine-inning shutout that featured a career-high 13 strikeouts and no walks in a tight 2-0 win over the Gators. He'd match that strikeout total again May 6 against Missouri and added two more double-digit K performances over his final seven starts in a Vanderbilt uniform. Since those changes have been locked in, Wright says Braves coaches and staff aren't looking to fiddle too much as they believe he's laid the groundwork to be yet another stellar arm in the system.

"Before [the Draft], I had a pretty good idea of what was here, because I'd heard a lot of the names," Wright said. "But now that I'm here, I've seen how advanced the pitchers, how many capable arms there really are. I've learned a lot more about the Braves than I thought I knew. ... And they've been really good with me so far. They've worked with me when I ask questions, but for the most part, they leave me alone. They let me be me, and I love that."

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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