Kyle Wright chose Vanderbilt in part because he knew the program’s history of producing heralded pitching prospects. Now he’s a member of that fraternity as the potential No. 1 overall pick in Monday’s draft.
Wright has bounced back from a slow start this season and is attempting to get Vanderbilt into the College World Series for the third time in four years. Vanderbilt (36-23-1) begins NCAA super regional competition Friday in a best-of-3 series at No. 1 overall seed Oregon State (52-4).
Win or lose this week, Wright has a bright future. Many experts have the Minnesota Twins taking Wright with the first overall pick Monday. He is expected to become the 10th Vanderbilt pitcher selected in the first round over the last 11 drafts, a trend that started when Tampa Bay made David Price the No. 1 overall pick in 2007.
“Their record with pitchers in particular and their winning was kind of a big reason why I wanted to come to Vanderbilt,” Wright said.
Wright is set to become the fifth Vanderbilt pitcher drafted in the first round over the last four years. This is shaping up as the seventh straight year in which least one Vanderbilt pitcher gets drafted in the first two rounds.
Vanderbilt has a locker room on campus specifically for its former players now in the pros to return to campus to work out. That enables Vanderbilt’s current pitchers to learn from all those first-round picks.
“It’s like a library of knowledge,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. “The kids that come back, they spend a lot of time with our pitchers right now and they just talk pitching. Pitching’s been a big deal here.”
Wright says he’s benefited from the company he has kept at Vanderbilt. He has been part of pitching staffs that included first-round picks Carson Fulmer, Walker Buehler and Jordan Sheffield as well as second-round selection Ben Bowden.
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He also has capitalized on a work ethic that he inherited from his parents. He grew up in Huntsville, Alabama, as the son of a high school baseball coach and a NASA engineer.
“He’s continued to work at a rate as if he’s trying to make the team,” Corbin said. “Every little detail is important to him.”
That’s evident in the way Wright responded to his early-season troubles.
Wright’s ERA was as high as 5.59 on April 1. Wright’s father, Roger Wright, called to see how he was handling the situation.
“I didn’t care about what he was doing on the mound,” Roger Wright said. “I was just kind of worried about him mentally. Are you OK mentally? All he said to me is, ‘Dad, I’m fine. I will be OK. Everything’s good. Don’t panic.’ I said, ‘OK, that’s all I need to hear.'”
Wright’s been outstanding ever since. He has yielded one earned run or less in six of his last eight starts, improving his ERA to 2.98. He has a 5-5 record with 113 strikeouts in 96 2/3 innings.
A mechanical adjustment led to his turnaround.
Wright said he was struggling to throw his breaking ball for a strike earlier in the season. The 6-foot-4 right-hander realized he was turning his hips too fast in his delivery.
That correction isn’t the only reason he’s pitched so well down the stretch. Wright’s physical strength enables him to avoid getting fatigued over the course of a season. Wright says he weighed about 195-200 pounds when he enrolled at Vanderbilt and now is up to 220.
Vanderbilt at Oregon State
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Corbin compares Wright to a football lineman in discussing the pitcher’s tenacity in the weight room.
“It’s made it really easier to pitch and hold my velocity throughout the game,” Wright said. “It’s not like I have to reach down and throw it as hard as I can every time in order to stay in the 93-96 range. It comes easier now. If I really want to reach back later in the game, I feel like I can because my strength will allow me to do so.”
This recent surge has solidified Wright’s status as a probable top-five pick who could join Price and Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson as recent No. 1 overall selections from Vanderbilt.
First there’s the matter of trying to get the Commodores back to Omaha.
“I’m still focused on what we’re doing at Vanderbilt,” Wright said, “and that’s winning games and playing as long as we possibly can.”