Kyle Wright Works On Deception, Fastball Command Following Demotion
DURHAM, N.C. — Braves righthander Kyle Wright has had an up-and-down season. He was hit hard in the big leagues, and he was similarly tattooed in two of his starts with Triple-A Gwinnett. On Saturday night against Durham, however, he was magnificent.
The Vanderbilt product, whom the Braves selected fifth overall in 2017, carved the Bulls with ruthless efficiency, using a mix of fastballs, sliders and changeups to induce weak contact early and keep his pitch count low. In fact, Wright needed just 52 pitches to work through the first five innings.
The key, Wright said, was to attack the strike zone and gradually change hitters' eye level.
"I need to start down in the zone and work up," he said. "(Saturday) I did a really good job of that. I particularly worked down, and then later in the game and later in the counts, I was able to come up and get some guys to chase fastballs up."
Another factor that helped Wright against Durham was a fastball that was consistently in the mid- to upper 90s. He sat between 95-97 mph for most of his outing, and touched 99 mph on his 72nd pitch of the game. His four-seam fastballs were thrown with hard cut life, and he used his two-seam fastball effectively against righthanders as well.
Even so, Wright has not had the kind of success one would expect would come with a velocity spike. Instead, he'd had two excellent starts with Gwinnett in which he'd allowed a combined four runs over 12 innings, and two poor starts in which he'd allowed 13 runs over 5.2 innings.
So, why, with a lively, high-velocity fastball, was Wright getting hit so hard? Spotty fastball command and a lack of deception in his delivery each played a role. Fortunately, both of those issues are correctable.
"Whenever guys are catching up to those pitches consistently," Wright said, "then I'm probably not pitching down enough to where (the hitters) are able to bring the ball up and their eyes are allowed to stay up."
Wright also found a mechanical flaw in his delivery that was letting hitters get a clean look at the ball far too early and for far too long. Specifically, he, Gwinnett pitching coach Mike Maroth and Braves pitching coordinator Derrick Lewis noticed that Wright was swinging his front leg open early, which caused him to come forward too soon and leave his arm, and thus the ball, in the hitters' view quicker than he would like.
That revelation came in a bullpen session before his start against Durham, when he held the Bulls to three runs on five hits over seven innings.
Now that he's established that he wants to move the ball vertically within the strike zone, Wright had to make sure he had something in his arsenal suited for each part of the zone. Toward the end of last year, for example, he said he was having a problem with the amount of cut he was putting on his four-seam fastball. The pitch showed similar movement on Saturday, but was effective because he located it toward the bottom of the zone.
To work up in the zone effectively, he needed a different type of spin. That alteration was one of his goals entering his past offseason.
"I worked on straightening the ball up and getting that good, four-seam fastball. That way I could pitch up in the zone," Wright explained. "Now I've basically taken my slider, cutter, whatever you want to call it, and make it more of a harder pitch. That way it turns into more of a cutter and I can have a pitch going (left), a pitch going (right) and a pitch going (straight). That's what I've been trying to work on, is being able to do all three."
The key to his fastballs' effectiveness, then, is in the spin. Using Rapsodo's technology, Wright would like 95-100 percent spin efficiency on his four-seam fastball, particularly when pitching up in the zone. Achieving this goal will make the pitch appear even harder and give it that riding life that helps it miss bats.
Wright had been exposed to Rapsodo and TrackMan and various other forms of baseball technology throughout his time at Vanderbilt, particularly toward the back half of his time with the Commodores.
Through the use of those devices, Wright is allowed a window into parts of his game he might not see or feel otherwise. In particular, the technology has showed him that if he achieves the optimal spin efficiency on his four-seam fastball, his changeup plays better as a result.
"My changeup is better than I thought it was," he said. "In college I never really threw a lot of changeups, and even in pro ball I didn't throw a lot until last year when my pitching coach in Double-A, Dennis Lewallyn, challenged me to throw it more and more. I had some success with it, but it still wasn't the most confident pitch.
"I threw it on the Rapsodo this offseason and the numbers were backing up the success I had with it, so it instilled a little confidence in me to throw it more and use it more. It's been a really good pitch for me."
If he maintains the kind of arsenal he showed against Durham, it's very easy to see Wright achieving the mid-rotation potential scouts have seen for him since he turned pro.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Though he hasn't gone deep until yesterday's two home run game, scouts are quite intrigued by Twins outfield prospect Trevor Larnach, albeit with a bit of a caveat. The Oregon State alum carried a plus power grade coming into the season, but evaluators have seen that power mostly play to the opposite field while the pull side remains a bit of a trouble spot.
— Marlins righthander Zac Gallen has put up outstanding numbers this year with Triple-A New Orleans, including 48 strikeouts against just five walks in 40.1 innings. Scouts who've seen him this year peg that success, in part, to an outstanding cutter-slider hybrid that elicits both weak contact and swings-and-misses depending on the pitch's depth. Combine that with outstanding command of a six-pitch arsenal, and there's an easy recipe for success.
— Braves lefthander Kolby Allard appears to be experiencing a spike in velocity. After sitting between 88-90 mph last season, Atlanta's No. 14 prospect entering the year sat at 92 mph in a recent start and topped out at 93 mph.