The first time I watched Sonny Gray throw was during the College World Series in 2011 after Gray had been drafted with the 18th pick in the first round of the First Year Player Draft. Gray was still pitching for the Vanderbilt Commodores and something immediately struck me about him. ”This is the next Tim Hudson” I thought to myself. Small in stature, relatively violent delivery, wicked stuff. Assuredly I wasn’t the only one who had this thought at the time, but it made me excited to have him in the fold nevertheless.
Gray signed relatively quickly, and reported the A’s rookie league squad in Arizona, after throwing just 2 innings he was promoted all the way up to Double A Midland. Gray would dazzle everyone in his first true professional audition with the Rockhounds by posting a 0.45 ERA in 20 innings of work, it looked like he might be on the fast track to Oakland.
Gray would open the 2012 season in Double A once again, but would have a few growing pains. His ERA ballooned to 4.14 over 148 innings, his walk rate went up (2.7 to 3.4/9 innings), and his strikeout rate went down (8.1-5.9/9 innings). But despite his struggles, the Athletics organization didn’t seem worried, as he was promoted to Triple A Sacramento before the minor league season concluded. He didn’t fare that well with the Rivercats either, allowing 4 ER in his 4 innings of work there. He figures to pick up back in Sacramento as the 2013 season gets under way, and will undoubtedly have his sights set on Oakland this year.
Early on in Athletics camp Sonny Gray has reopened a lot of eyes in the Athletics organization though, those who may have begun to forget about the talent that he possesses. Both Susan Slusser and Casey Pratt reported from A’s Manager Bob Melvin that Sonny Gray has been standing out during bullpen sessions so far, and that the right hander is looking more comfortable on the mound. This is a great sign for Gray, for the near and the distant future.
It seems almost impossible that Sonny Gray could break camp with the A’s, but it seems possible that he could be on his way to forcing the issue. The 25 man roster seems more or less set, with very little room to maneuver barring injury. But a strong Cactus League performance versus some high minor league and major league quality hitters could put Gray on the doorstep of the O.co Coliseum. While Brett Anderson, Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, and Bartolo Colon seem to be entrenched in the starting rotation, and A.J. Griffin battling Dan Straily for the 5th spot, there doesn’t seem to be room for Gray. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a chance Gray could leapfrog both of them and find his way into the rotation.
As we’ve detailed ad nauseum over the last few weeks, the A’s have built an impressive amount of depth in just about every aspect of the game. Sonny Gray could prove to be just that and more in 2013 if all goes well.