The Braves announced this morning that they’ve optioned right-handers Kyle Wright and Jacob Webb to Triple-A to begin the season. That decision strongly suggests that righty Bryse Wilson will open the season as the club’s fifth starter behind Max Fried, Ian Anderson, Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly while the club waits on Mike Soroka to finish rehabbing last year’s Achilles tear.
Wright, the No. 5 overall draft pick back in 2017, started eight games for the Braves last year as the rotation battled substantial injury issues. He limped to a 5.21 ERA and 5.83 SIERA with poor strikeout and walk rates, but the righty also found his stride near season’s end and got the nod for a pair of postseason starts. He utterly dominated the Marlins in the NLDS before being hammered for seven runs in just two-thirds of an inning at the hands of the eventual World Series Champion Dodgers in the NLCS.
Wilson, meanwhile, was strong in his lone postseason start (also against the Dodgers), allowing just a run in six innings of work. He’s outpitched Wright thus far in Spring Training, holding opponents to three runs on 15 hits and four walks with nine strikeouts in 13 2/3 innings of work. Long considered a well-regarded prospect himself, the 23-year-old Wilson has yet to find extended success in the big leagues but also hasn’t had a long opportunity to do so; he’s never pitched in more than six games during any of his three seasons of MLB experience to date.
Webb’s option also lends some clarity to the bullpen picture. The 27-year-old righty is the victim of the options game that impacts so many players this time of year, it seems. He’s pitched 42 1/3 innings at the MLB level and recorded a 1.06 ERA — albeit with less impressive secondary stats, including below-average strikeout (22.2) and walk (9.9) percentages and fielding-independent marks in the 4.00s. Still, he’s pitched well this spring (one run in six frames) and probably would’ve had a spot in the ’pen if the Braves’ relief corps had more flexibility.
That’s simply not the case, however. Will Smith, Chris Martin and Josh Tomlin, all veterans on guaranteed free-agent deals, aren’t going anywhere. Tyler Matzek, Grant Dayton and Luke Jackson are all out of minor league options. A.J. Minter has minor league options remaining but was dominant in 2020 and has had a strong Spring Training.
That could leave a bullpen spot open — perhaps two, depending on the number of pitchers the club carries. However, David O’Brien of The Athletic recently noted that the Braves are intrigued by non-roster invitees Nate Jones and Carl Edwards Jr., both of whom have pitched well this spring. Jones, who has thrown 6 2/3 shutout innings in camp, has to be added to the roster by tomorrow or else be granted his release, per O’Brien, which surely factored into the decision to option Webb.
It’s still likely that Wright and Webb will both have the opportunity to factor prominently into the team’s pitching plans by season’s end, as injuries and struggles elsewhere on the roster will inevitably lead the Braves to tap into their depth.