CUMBERLAND — From his days starring at Cumberland High School to leading the Upper Deck Post 14 Legion squad to the World Series, Chris Wright was always a dominant starting pitcher.
But last summer while playing for the Brewster Whitecaps in the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League, Wright went to the bullpen. It was the move that changed the trajectory of his career.
After seven superb appearances last summer, Wright became one of the most dominant relievers in college baseball this spring for Bryant. Major League Baseball teams took notice of the hard-throwing lefty’s performances and Wednesday afternoon Wright was selected in the 12th round (pick No. 356) of the MLB Draft by the San Francisco Giants.
“I’ve worked hard for this for a long time, so seeing this come to fruition is pretty cool. Everyone in my family was kind of screaming,” said Wright, who received the call from the Giants at his Cumberland home alongside his parents, Matt and Michele, and his uncle. “Moving to reliever changed my life. Starting relieving on the Cape definitely was one of the best things that happened to me. The move worked, so we stuck with what we knew worked.”
Wright was one of three players from the 2019 Northeast Conference regular-season champion Bulldogs to be selected in three-day draft. Redshirt sophomore All-American outfielder Ryan Ward was selected in the eighth round by the Los Angeles Dodgers, while shortstop Jimmy Titus went in the 22nd round to the Dodgers.
Bryant coach Steve Owens, who has seen plenty of talented players come through his program, believes the Giants are getting a steal so late in the draft. Wright, who will get a signing bonus north of $100,000, struck out 64 batters and allowed just 39 base runners in 34.1 innings of relief. He picked up 13 saves, and he did it while hitting in the middle of the Bulldogs order.
Wright is a semifinalist for the John Olerud Award for the best two-way player in the country after hitting six home runs and driving in 51 runs, while posting a .991 fielding-percentage at first base.
“Without a question, I think Chris has the ability, when he just focuses on pitching, the ceiling for him is the Major League level,” Owens said Tuesday night. “He has a swing-and-miss fastball. His command is going to get a lot better, his velocity is going to get a lot better, he has a great body and he’s got a competitive mindset.
“I don’t think teams understand what Chris had to do for us because if they did he would’ve been drafted [on the second day]. That’s how high I evaluate his ceiling. He worked hard on his pitching because he knew that would be his ticket.”
Because of injuries to so many Bryant infielders, Wright only threw 1.1 innings as a sophomore. Everything changed when he went to Brewster and struck out 24 batters and posted a 1.84 ERA in 14.2 innings against the best amateur competition in the country.
Wright’s biggest issue early in his Bryant career was throwing strikes, but he solved that problem with a couple of delivery tweaks. This season, the first-team all-NEC selection walked just 23 batters in 34.1 innings. He struck out 16.78 batters per nine innings. He also pitched two or more innings in six outings, including a three-inning save in the NEC Tournament against Central Connecticut.
“Turning into a reliever/closer changed the complexion of my career,” said Wright, who added he was a little bummed out that he didn’t get selected on the second day of the draft. “Obviously, no one knows where my career is going to go, but I’m just going to keep working hard every day and see where it goes.”
For the first time in his life, Wright will play his home games outside of the Blackstone Valley. After signing with the Giants, he will likely be sent to the Class-A Short Season Salem-Kezier Volcanoes in Oregon.
“It’s going to be different, but it’s something that I’m ready to do,” Wright said. “I’m ready to go out there and play, I’m excited.”
The night before Wright was drafted, Ward was selected with the 245th pick by the defending National League champion Dodgers. After missing his true freshman season with an injury, the Millbury native authored two of the best offensive seasons in Bryant history.
In 2018, the left fielder became the first player since the program moved up to Division I to hit over .400, he hit .409. He also recorded a school-record 101 hits to go along with eight home runs and 22 doubles. He backed that season up with 13 home runs, 15 doubles and 51 RBIs, to go along with an OPS of 1.064.
“All my hard work and everything I did off the field paid off,” Ward said Wednesday night. “It’s an unreal feeling to know my dream of playing professional baseball became realistic. After my injury, I knew that if I just kept working and came back the way I thought I would, I believed I would end up where I am right now.”
What impressed Owens the most about Ward over the last two seasons is that the redshirt sophomore struck out just 27 times, while homering 21 times. Because Ward doesn’t have plus speed, Owens said his success will be measured by his ability to drive the ball and get on base.
“As a college player he’s hit off the charts against good pitching and subpar pitching,” Owens said. “He’s done it in the summer time, so he’s just a natural hitter. He’s a can’t-miss kid on the offensive side, but he still has to develop other parts of his game. He’s a pure hitter that I feel will be able to handle the pitching in professional baseball.”
Ward, whose signing bonus should be in the $163,000 range according to MLB.com’s draft tracker, said he’s going to talk to the Dodgers Thursday about the first step in his professional career. If they sign, Ward and Titus will likely be sent to Utah to play for the Ogden Raptors in the Pioneer League.
Titus, who missed his sophomore season with an ACL injury, bounced back to hit 12 home runs and produce 63 RBIs with an OPS of .994 while playing a superb shortstop. The Stafford, Conn. native was a first-team all-NEC selection this season.
“I can’t even describe how proud I am of [Wright and Titus],” Ward said. “They’re hard workers and great teammates and two of my best friends on and off the field. I’ve already talked to them both and I’m so proud of them.”
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