The Oakland Athletics promoted pitching prospect Sonny Gray to the major league roster this week. He looked good in his first big league outing, fanning three in two innings of relief work, and should see significant action in the Oakland bullpen for the second half of the season. Let's take a look at Gray as today's Minor League Ball Prospect of the Day.
Gray was considered a second or third round talent coming out of high school in Smyrna, Tennessee, in 2008. His firm Vanderbilt commitment scared teams off on draft day and he fell to the 27th round, where he (obviously) didn't sign with the Cubs. After a spotty but promising freshman year in '09 (4.30 ERA, 65 hits in 59 innings, but five saves with a 72/20 K/BB ratio), he moved into the Commodores rotation in 2010 and thrived, going 10-5, 3.48 with a 113/48 K/BB in 109 innings.
He was even better in 2011, going 12-4, 2.43 with a 132/51 K/BB in 126 innings, which earned him a spot in the first round of the draft with Oakland. He signed in time to pitch 20 innings for Double-A Midland, giving up just one run with an 18/6 K/BB and giving hope that he could reach the majors sometime in '12.
That didn't happen: his '12 campaign wasn't as good as anticipated, featuring a 4.26 ERA with a 99/58 K/BB in 152 innings for Midland with 158 hits allowed. That's hardly terrible by Texas League standards, but not as dominant as Oakland had hoped. This was traced to mechanical inconsistency and some problems incorporating the changeup into his arsenal more aggressively.
2013 has been much different: a 2.81 ERA with a 107/34 K/BB in 102 innings for Triple-A Sacramento, with just 96 hits allowed and a 1.47 GO/AO. Improving performance against more difficult competition is always a good sign, and Gray doesn't have much left to learn against Pacific Coast League competition.
Gray is a 5-11, 200 pound right-handed hitter and thrower, born November 7, 1989 in Nashville, Tennessee. He's always shown good velocity, with a 90-96 MPH sinking fastball. Although some "short" right-handers work high in the strike zone, Gray has always been a ground ball pitcher who gives up few homers. His breaking ball has been a strong pitch for years: sometimes it acts like a slider, sometimes a power curve, but it is nasty either way. His command can be inconsistent but has looked better this year.
Scouts have always liked his fastball/breaking ball combination, but the key for Gray has been incorporating a better changeup. He's made progress in this department, and was pitching well enough in Triple-A (with a notably higher strikeout rate this season) for us to be optimistic about his chances. Although he will be a reliever at the outset in the majors, Gray still has reasonable chance to be a starter in the long run. Even if starting doesn't work out, his stuff is good enough for him to close games eventually.