Prospect of the Day: Sonny Gray, RHP, Oakland Athletics
Oakland's 2011 First Round pick Sonny Gray has allowed just one run in his first 13 professional innings. How quickly can he advance to the majors? I've received several questions about my opinion of Gray lately, so let's take a look.
First, a review of his history. Gray was the 18th overall pick in the 2011 draft, out of Vanderbilt, signing a contract with the Athletics as their first-round pick in late July for $1,540,000. He was considered a Top Ten talent in the months before the draft. Although his stock didn't really drop, the class this year was extremely deep and someone had to slip.
His college career was very impressive. Used as a reliever as a freshman, he posted a 4.30 ERA but fanned 72 in 59 innings, then had a brilliant summer for the US National Team. A starter as a sophomore, he adapted to the heavier workload easily and posted a 3.48 ERA with a 113/48 K/BB in 109 innings. He went 12-4, 2.43 for the Commodores in 2011, with a 132/51 K/B B in 126 innings and 97 hits allowed. He gave up just 14 extra-base hits (including four homers) all spring.
Gray has pitched 13.1 professional innings so far, a two-inning tune-up in the Arizona Rookie League, then 11.1 innings over three starts (he's on a pitch count) for Double-A Midland. So far he has a 14/2 K/BB, 13 hits and one run allowed, and a 1.67 GO/AO ratio.
Gray doesn't have much height for a right-hander at 5-11, listed at 200 pounds, but is a fine overall athlete with plenty of arm strength, hitting 92-97 MPH. His hard curveball is overpowering, and the potent one-two combination makes him an attractive closer candidate for many scouts. He throws consistently harder when used in the bullpen, and his command isn't always that sharp, making short outings in relief seem like a good option.
On the other hand, he's durable, and it is also tempting to see him in the future starting rotation as a possible Roy Oswalt type. He'll need to refine his changeup for that to happen. There is mixed opinion about the changeup; some observers already rate it as a solid pitch (although he needs to throw it more), but others say it is below average and needs substantial work. Even if the pessimists are correct, he certainly has the aptitude to refine it, given enough time in the minors to work on it. His personality and makeup are considered big positives, which of course would help him in any role.
Personally, I would go ahead and use Gray as a starter for now. You can always move him to the bullpen if it doesn't work out, but moving from relief to the rotation is usually a bit more difficult. He's been starting for two years now and I don't see any reason to change that until he runs into an actual problem. He's thrown strikes easily in his early professional innings, and he should be ready for a major league trial within a year. I rate Gray currently as a Grade B+ prospect.