Disclaimer: I apologize in advance for the amount of puns myself and other sportswriters will use Kyle Wright’s name for in the years to come. Now, with that off my chest…
With just two teams picking ahead of them in this year’s amateur draft, the San Diego Padres have a number of options to narrow down to ahead of their first round selection on June 12.
There’s do-it-all high schooler Hunter Greene, a Sports Illustrated cover boy whose rocket arm and strong swing has scouts dreaming about him as both a pitcher and a shortstop. There’s also Brendan McKay, a two-way player at Louisville (and 2014 Padres draft pick), who has garnered similar buzz for his powerful bat at the plate and low-nineties heater on the mound.
With both widely expected to go 1-1 and 1-2, however, San Diego will likely be left with a far tougher pool of players to separate a top prospect from. That pick could end up being lefty ace Mackenzie Gore of Whiteville (NC) High School, whose four-pitch mix has drawn rave reviews from talent evaluators, or athletic prep bat Royce Lewis out of JSerra Catholic (CA) High School, who could excel as either a shortstop or outfielder.
Another name that deserves more buzz than it seems to be getting in America’s Finest City, however, is that of Vanderbilt righty, Kyle Wright. The team has long shown interest already, with Padres general manager, A.J. Preller, in attendance at Wright’s first start of the season against the University of San Diego in February.
Seated in the stands a few rows behind Preller, I had a chance to evaluate Wright that night as well. Despite having one of his roughest appearances of the year (he threw five innings, surrendering four hits and three walks against just two strikeouts), Wright still flashed the potential that should have San Diego scouts salivating. Could he be right (yeah…) for the Padres at number three overall?
Let’s take a look.
The quality that stands out about Wright as soon as you see him is his pure size. The junior is listed at 6’4” and a very solid 220 pounds, and he pairs that physicality with exceptional athleticism in his delivery that will allow for further projection in seasons to come. That strength should also more than allow his body to weather a major league workload and stay healthy over the long haul, a must for any pitcher sitting near the top of the draft board.
Once the righty starts throwing, with a smooth delivery and clean arm action, his stuff pops off the page. A fastball that can get into the upper nineties but sits mostly in the low-to-mid nineties is his best pitch. However, two quality off-speed offerings sit close behind, with a curveball that is used against lefties and a slider versus righties both showing tight spin and good bite. He also features a developing change-up that was not used much when I saw him in person but has reportedly made gains since then. That pitch mix has translated into 104 strikeouts and a .206 batting average against him in 89.2 innings over the course of the 2017 season.
Wright’s biggest drawback is some occasional struggles with command that reared their head this spring. He may throw strikes, but they aren’t always quality strikes, especially when ahead in the count. This was highlighted in his start against the Toreros, when two tight breaking balls got him two quick strikes on USD All-American candidate Riley Adams. However, a third slider was hung badly and consequently was crushed over the left field fence, sparking a Toreros upset over the then sixth-ranked Commodores.
It is mistakes like this that Wright will need to avoid in the professional ranks. However, with improved coaching and continued adjustments to a frame that is rumored to have gained almost forty pounds since high school, Wright’s command should take the necessary steps forward, as actualized by the measly eight walks the junior has handed out over more than 46 innings in the last six weeks.
Ultimately, Wright’s projectable physical frame and grade-A stuff, combined with the big-game experience he’s gained at Vanderbilt, should allow him to move quickly through the minor league ranks. With the Padres targeting a return to competitiveness in the near future, this would likely give him a chance to eliminate the extra couple of seasons of development required by a prep pitcher and join the MLB staff around the same time as some of the organization’s other top arms.
Consequently, Wright offers a better high-ceiling/high-floor combination than almost any other player in this year’s draft class. If Hunter Greene and Brendan McKay are off the board when San Diego makes its first-round selection, I see no reason why Kyle Wright wouldn’t be the right choice (honestly, I’m sorry) for the Friars and their future.