Leading up to Day 1 of the MLB Draft on June 12, we will be conducting Q&A interviews with many prospects who are projected to be first-rounders. For a complete listing of these interviews, click here.
First up is Vanderbilt right-hander Kyle Wright, a 6-foot-4, 220 lb. junior from Huntsville, Alabama. Wright posted a 2.91 ERA and 10.44 K/9 in 89.2 innings for the Commodores this season, leading the team to a 33-22 record and NCAA Tournament bid.
Wright is slated to be the first overall pick in our latest composite mock draft, with MLB.com, ESPN and Baseball America all pegging him to go to the Twins with the No. 1 overall pick. Be sure to check out Wright’s full scouting report over at SB Nation’s Minor League Ball.
When did you first get into baseball as a kid and realize you loved playing the game?
"As soon as I started playing. Baseball has always been a part of my family; my dad has been a coach since I was born. Really from the day I came into this world, baseball was going to be something that was a part of me. I guess when I started playing T-ball I knew this was something I wanted to do for a long time.”
Growing up, who was your favorite team? Favorite player?
"I grew up watching the Braves, those were the guys that me and my brothers loved watching. Going off that, I’d have to say Chipper Jones. I always loved watching him because I used to play both ways so I liked watching the hitters.”
What was your turning point moment when you knew you could turn pro and potentially become a top pick?
"I don’t know if I’ve entirely even thought of that. As I’ve came to [Vanderbilt] and grown and developed, I’ve just gotten better and better over the years. That’s just a big thanks to the coaching staff and the guys I’ve gotten to play with. It’s been a gradual thing that I’ve felt I was capable of doing this.”
All the mock drafts out right now have you as the consensus No. 1 overall pick. What would that mean to you, and what does it mean to you just to be in the conversation to go first overall?
"It’s really cool. At the end of the day, it’s about what situation is best for me and what situation is best for the team that’s picking. To even be in the conversation is something really special. It’s obviously been something I’ve worked for my whole life. To be among the top guys in the nation is really cool.”
The Vanderbilt program is no stranger to having top picks, with Dansby Swanson being the last one just two years ago. Have you spoken to him throughout this process about potentially going first overall?
"I really haven’t talked to him that much, just because I got to see how he handled it his junior year. Really what he did was not to focus in on it too much. He just enjoyed the time he was able to spend with his teammates and enjoyed trying to win games here. That took the pressure off of him. Even though we haven’t talked about it, I’ve still learned a lot just from watching him in his junior year.”
What is it about Vanderbilt that churns out all these first-round picks year after year?
"I think it’s just the development we offer here. For me, [pitching coach Scott Brown] has done a really good job. He knows these guys are different from each other, so he doesn’t try to make every pitcher the same. He focuses in on what each guy is and then he does the best that he can to develop. I think it’s just that here we allow guys to grow and help guys get what they need.”
As someone coming into this as a polished college pitcher, do you think there are advantages of teams taking a guy like that as opposed to a raw, younger high school talent?
"I don’t really know. I guess it’s what this game wants to take. I think there are advantages and disadvantages of both. It’s really a tough question to answer. I know what I’m capable of, so it’s hard for me to speak of what other guys are.”
What led to your decision to commit to Vanderbilt in the first place?
"I wasn’t ready [for pro ball]. Out of high school, I was a good pitcher but I wasn’t that good. I had pretty good stuff, but it wasn’t anywhere near where I am now. It was just important for me to come here and grow and develop. The education is a pretty big part of it too. It’s kind of tough to turn down all the development and the school here going straight to pro ball when I knew I wasn’t ready to do so.”
What specific work have you put in at Vanderbilt to get yourself to this level? What changes have gotten you ready to go pro at this stage?
"The big one is the weight room. I really bought into the weight room and how it’s helped me get better. My freshman and sophomore years, I lifted pretty much everyday over the summer and saw how it benefited me. I knew it was going to help me substantially, the stronger I got. I think that’s a big one, pretty much the big reason why. Then all the small things that Coach Brown has seen and other guys on the team have seen, that’s all really helped me.”
As a pitcher, what is your biggest strength?
"I feel like mentally, I’m pretty well groomed. Growing up, my dad was my high school baseball coach so I’ve always had a little bit of a coach’s mind. The game never really gets to me. I feel like I’m able to make pitches when I need to. Even going into [college], that’s kind of stuck with me through big games I’ve had to pitch in.”
As you approach the next level, what’s the part of your game that needs the most improvement?
"For me, it’s just continued changeup development. Toward the end of this season, I started to throw some pretty good ones. I’m starting to gain more and more confidence with it. That’s just a pitch that can really change the game, and it’s so tough on hitters because it’s so difficult to see. If I can be more and more consistent with that, that’s what I want to work on.”
Your teammate, outfielder Jeren Kendall, is a borderline top-10 pick this year as well. Advertise for him... why should a team pick him in the first-round?
"One, he’s a great teammate. He’s always the same...he’s never in a bad mood. You’re going to get the same thing out of him every single day. He’s gonna come ready to work. Besides that, he’s a superb athlete and a superb talent. He’s one of the best players I’ve ever seen play. I’m just fortunate that I get to play with him so I get to see him everyday first-hand. There’s really nothing not to like about him.”
For you, your win-loss record this season (4-5) doesn’t necessarily correlate to that of a star college pitcher and you’ve mentioned in previous interviews that wins at the high school level didn’t come easily either. To what do you attribute that pattern?
"Early on this year, I just didn’t pitch very well. That’s where it all started. You can say run support, but at the end of the day that’s not my concern. Guys are trying to score runs, it’s not like they’re not trying to score. As a pitcher, you can’t concern yourself with that at all. I think wins and losses come from both sides, but that’s gone and we’re here where we are now [in the NCAA Tournament] and happy with where we are.”
There have been some complaints over the last few years about the timing of the draft, coming right at the same time as the college postseason. Would you like it any other way, or do you prefer that all these life-changing moments come at the same time?
"I don’t know, it’s kind of interesting because it’s just all so new. I really don’t try to focus too much attention on the draft and that stuff because we’re concerned about winning here. As it gets a little bit closer, I’ll probably have a better answer but right now it’s really not too big of a deal. Our concern and our goal here is to play as long as we can.”
If you had to pick a comp in the majors, at this moment, who would you choose and why?
"I’ve always had a tough time answering this one. Two guys who I try to say are Max Scherzer and Corey Kluber. One, it’s because I really love watching those guys. I love watching the way Scherzer attacks hitters and how he pitches with absolutely zero fear. I like watching Kluber because some of the pitches that we throw kind of have similar shapes. I like to see what counts he throws his fastball in or his slider or cutter in, and how hitters have to adjust.”
Less than two weeks out, what are your honest expectations as to where you’ll be selected in the draft?
"I’d say my goal is wherever the best fit. That’s really all I want. Whatever team believes in me the most is probably the team I want to go to. I really don’t necessarily have any expectations or any specific goals of where I want to go. I think it’s just whichever team I feel like will benefit me the most and that I can help benefit the most. That’s where I want to go.”