The Braves traded right-hander Kyle Wright to the Royals in exchange for fellow righty Jackson Kowar, reports Anne Rogers of MLB.com. Rogers’ colleague Mark Bowman first indicated that some type of deal involving Wright could be in the works. Wright underwent shoulder surgery following the season and is expected to miss the entire 2024 campaign, though Kansas City will control him for two years after that.
Wright, 28, was the No. 5 overall pick in the 2017 draft, and while he took several years to get there, he eventually broke out with a dominant showing in 2022. After posting a 6.56 ERA through 70 innings across parts of four seasons from 2018-21, Wright turned in a career-best performance in just about every capacity in 2022. Over the life of 180 1/3 frames, he logged a 3.19 earned run average with a 23.6% strikeout rate, 7.2% walk rate, 55.6% grounder rate and 0.95 HR/9.
That ostensibly set the stage for Wright to pitch near the top of the Atlanta rotation for years to come, but as is so often the case with pitchers, injuries intervened and changed his career trajectory. Wright reported shoulder soreness during spring training and opened the year on the 15-day IL. He returned in mid-April but was placed back on the injured list just three weeks later — this time eventually being moved to the 60-day IL. Wright returned for four September appearances and was hit hard while showing diminished velocity. He underwent surgery after the conclusion of the regular season and won’t be back on a big league mound until the 2025 campaign.
Overall, Wright’s 2023 season included just 31 innings of 6.97 ERA ball with strikeout, walk and home run rates that all trended in the wrong direction. He’s eligible for arbitration this winter and projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to earn $1.4M in his first trip through the process. He’ll all but certainly make an identical salary in 2025 after sitting out the ’24 campaign and accruing a full year of service on the 60-day injured list. Kansas City is effectively acquiring two healthy years of Wright. That first season will more or less cost them $2.8M (next year’s ~$1.4M salary and a matching amount the following year). Wright will be on an innings limit of some kind in ’25 and ideally be built up to a full workload in 2026.
In return for this long-term upside play on Wright, the Royals will give the Braves six years of club control over Kowar — a former Florida Gators star, first-round pick and top prospect who’s yet to pan out in K.C. Kowar has one minor league option year remaining after being granted a fourth option due to injuries (hat tip to Bowman), but the 27-year-old has yielded 75 earned runs in 74 Major League innings across parts of three seasons. Suffice it to say, he’s a project and an upside play in his own right.
While Kowar clearly hasn’t had any big league success to date, he’s seen a pronounced uptick in velocity since moving to a bullpen role on a full-time basis. After averaging 95.7 mph on his heater as a starter in 2021, he averaged 97 mph in 2023. That’s impressive life, to be sure, but the pitch also has well below-average spin — and Kowar’s broader 10.7% swinging-strike rate across his entire arsenal is still slightly below league average. Kowar 21.2% if his opponents in 2023 but also walked 14.6% of them — bringing his career walk rate to 13.7%.
The Braves clearly see something they like, however. Kowar ranked among Baseball America’s top-100 prospects in both the 2019-20 and 2020-21 offseasons and generally posted solid or better numbers throughout the minors up until the 2022 season. He’s been hit hard in Triple-A over the past two years, just as he has in the big leagues, but if the Braves can get him back to his pre-’22 form, they’ll have secured six years of club control over a hard-throwing bullpen arm.