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The rise of Rockies prospect Jon Gray

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The Rockies top prospect and one of the top pitching prospects in baseball is picking up momentum. Just how close is the 23-year old righty to his Rockies debut?

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

It’s right around that time of year when teams either cash it in or go for it all. July is that wonderful month when old veterans leave sinking ships and young prospects get their shot.

The Rockies, who own the worst record in the NL West, will most likely begin to tear down the old regime and start anew at the deadline. Trade rumors have swirled around Troy Tulowitzki for what seems to be a decade now, and even the streaking Carlos Gonzalez could be adding trade value to his name. It is a changing of the guard in the Mile High City.

Heading into the season, when injuries, releases and setbacks hit the Rockies rotation, many felt that the Jon Gray Era would officially begin. Instead they went with whom they thought was their second best pitching prospect in Eddie Butler. Butler did not perform well in his second Major League stint, even raising some questions on whether he could actually become a reliable option on the big league level. 

The Rockies hesitation on Gray was very understandable. Gray of course was the third overall pick in the 2013 draft that saw Mark Appel and Kris Bryant go right before him. While Appel’s struggle to get to the Major Leagues has been well documented, Gray’s struggles have been able to sneak under the radar outside of Colorado for the most part.

Gray looked fantastic with the High-A Modesto Nuts in the second half of 2013 going 4-0 with a 0.75 ERA, 0.67 WHIP and 36 strikeouts over 24 innings while issuing just six walks. That success didn’t translate so well in his 2014 jump to Double-A.

The 23-year old righty wasn’t terrible with the Tulsa Drillers last year (10-5, 3.91 ERA, 1.19 WHIP) but it wasn’t the stats people became concerned with. The fireballer from Oklahoma came into the league with a 70 grade fastball that was consistently in the mid-90s, often touching near triple digits.

Last season, that signature fastball hung around the low-90s for much of the year. The harder he threw that pitch, the less command he had. His strikeout rate sunk (113 over 124.1 innings) while his walk rate rose (41 over the same span). 

Still Gray came into spring training in 2015 and shined. He had a memorable start against the Milwaukee Brewers in the Cactus League. Gray allowed a leadoff single to Carlos Gomez, would pick him off and then fire six straight strikes for back-to-back strikeouts of Scooter Gennett and Ryan Braun to end the inning. He clearly had the stuff and the moxie to make an impact at the big league level.

Despite a strong beginning to spring training,  Gray headed to Albuquerque. He looked lost. Gray allowed four or more earned runs in his first four starts of the year while opponents were hitting .400 against him as he walked eight batters in his first 17.2 innings of the season. A May 15th loss had Gray sitting at 1-4 with a 7.75 ERA and a 1.72 WHIP. Opponents were hitting Gray with ease, batting .329 against him.

Then things suddenly changed. As our friends at Purple Row point out, that velocity came back. What Gray has been doing since May 15th is learning how to control it. In seven of his ten starts since that May 15th loss, Gray has allowed two runs or less — three runs or less in 90-percent of those starts. He was beat up in the box score on June 27th in his one "bad" start, but when looking at the performance, a lot of unlucky base hits were able to sneak through some gaps and wasn’t as bad as it may have appeared, especially since he capped out that fastball at 98 miles per hour.

What Gray has been doing is learning that he can’t simply overpower batters on the higher levels with a blazing fastball, especially if he can’t control it. Instead, Gray is once again consistently throwing in the mid-90s. His strong and powerful slider can fool any hitter and his breaking ball has developed into a reliable third pitch. The hard sink can get even Major League batters to chase it.

So, just how close is Jon Gray to that big league debut? Coming off of a scoreless July 7th outing in which he struck out eight and walked just two, Rockies officials are hinting that his debut is imminent. While rumors are aswirl that he may get that call right after the All Star Break, he may be in Colorado by the time you're done reading this article!