November 17 was a busy day across Major League Baseball thanks to the non-tender deadline. Several moves were made, and one of the biggest ones sent a former 20-game winner from Atlanta to Kansas City. Here’s a look at the trade that sent Kyle Wright to the Kansas City Royals.
The Braves’ Return
- RHP Jackson Kowar (6.43 ERA, 29 K over 28 IP)
The Kansas City Royals hoped to expedite their rebuild in 2018 when the team targeted college pitching at the top of the draft. Kansas City took five college pitchers — Kowar, Brady Singer, Daniel Lynch, Kris Bubic, and Jonathan Bowlan — in the first two rounds, and Singer and Kowar were both taken in the first round.
Kansas City’s received mixed results from the bunch and Kowar is no exception. The 27-year-old owns a career ERA of 9.12 and a 2.019 WHIP. However, Kowar has struck out 75 batters in 74 innings.
Walks have been a problem for Kowar, as his career BB/9 rate is 6.2 and he’s been prone to missing in the zone as well.
Kowar does have some weapons, though. The former University of Florida righty boasts three pitches: a four-seamer, changeup, and slider.
Kowar’s fastball sits in the mid-to-high-90s, and he can pair it with a changeup with good fading action that sits about 10 MPH less than the heater. The 27-year-old also leveraged a slider more in 2023, one that was primarily used against same-side hitters.
The new Brave has been primarily used as a reliever in the Majors. But, Kowar did make eight starts in 2021.
The Royals’ Return
- RHP Kyle Wright (6.97 ERA, 34 K in 31 IP)
The Braves selected Kyle Wright fifth overall in the 2017 MLB Draft. The righty made his MLB debut a year later, but Wright struggled on the mound. Over parts of four seasons (2018-21), Wright owned an ERA of 6.56 ERA (6.56 FIP) and yielded 15 home runs and 48 walks over 70 innings.
However, things turned for Wright during the 2021 MLB Playoffs. In the World Series, Wright struck out six over 5.2 IP and gave up just one run in that span.
That proved to be a harbinger of things to come in 2022. Wright struck out 174 over 180.1 IP and turned into an exceptional ground-ball pitcher. And, the ex-Braves’ curveball (.211 opp. BA, 33.5% Whiff%) was masterful.
Wright said in 2023 that in 2022, he got back to what was working for him while at Vanderbilt. Before, Wright said he would get stuck over the rubber of the mound and would tend to fly open with the glove in order to get back on time with his delivery.
But in 2022, Wright said he was drifting properly and holding the back leg as long as possible. That, per Wright, helped him to get back to better command and better stuff.
Unfortunately, command and health were not on Wright’s side in 2023. Wright walked 17 over 31 innings (9 GP) when on the mound in a season that saw him spend much of the year on the IL due to shoulder problems.
Wright will likely not pitch in 2024 due to shoulder surgery. Kansas City will have his arbitration rights through the end of the 2026 campaign.
The trade of Wright caps off a furious week of transactions for the Braves. Not only did Atlanta non-tender several players off the 40-man roster, but the Braves also sent pitchers Michael Soroka and Jared Shuster (White Sox), as well as Nick Anderson (Royals) to the AL Central.
The Braves do save some salary, as Wright was set to enter arbitration for the first time and get a raise from the $750,000 he earned in 2023. And, Atlanta picks up a former first-round pick who’s shown hit-and-miss stuff but has yet to find consistent footing in the Majors.
As for the Royals, Kansas City hasn’t had great luck with starters in recent years. Brady Singer had a down year, and the Royals’ best starter in 2023 was a lefty who wasn’t in the organization until June. Now, the Royals add a starter with #1 or #2 potential.
Right now, the Royals could dream of a rotation come 2025 that includes Singer, Cole Ragans, and Wright — all of whom will be under the age of 30 — and hopefully see the likes of Frank Mozzicato and Ben Kudrna knock on the MLB door by then.