Over the last decade and a half the A’s have been known for having some of the best pitching/pitching depth in MLB. The big trades that brought back top pitching prospects coupled with under the radar claims and low risk/high reward free agent signings have proven valuable over the years for A’s GM Billy Beane. Some of the players being sent out via trade from Oakland were drafted however. Think Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Trevor Cahill. Other than those players the Green and Gold have had somewhat of a hard time developing their own drafted pitchers. Instead they acquire young pitchers who then outpich their stay in Oakland and are traded away for young pitchers again. Doing this thus avoids the disaster of missing on drafted players.
One pitcher drafted recently however looks poised to become the next ace of the A’s staff. That is 23-year-old Sonny Gray. He was selected in the 2008 draft in the 27th round out of high school by the Chicago Cubs but instead went to Vanderbilt University instead. In those four years of college he dazzled and ultimately proved he could be a Major League caliber pitcher. Just to prove how much he dominated college hitters he was instead drafted by the A’s with the 18th overall pick in the 2011 draft.
Gray started out in 2011 in the Arizona League (AZL), also known as extended spring training. For reference that is below Short Season A Vermont, Low A Beloit, etc. He pitched so well in AZL that the organization decided to promote him to Double-A Midland, in theory skipping four different minor league teams. He then pitched himself out of the Midwest League last year and he was promoted to Triple-A Sacramento where he resides this season.
Triple-A Sacramento plays in the Pacific Coast League (PCL). This league is known as being a hitter’s paradise. Because of this a lot of top pitching prospects have inflated numbers and hide the true pitcher behind them. Most pitchers of talent in the PCL have ERA’s around 3. They have high strikeout numbers (because of the aggressive hitters) but also inflated walk numbers. The win loss numbers are also skewed due to relievers. These will be reference points for Gray’s Triple-A Sacramento numbers this season:
Gray’s 2013 numbers: W/L 7-5, 88.1 IP, 2.85 ERA, 90 K, 29 BB, 1.29 WHIP.
Those are dominating numbers for a hitters league. With an entire season of Triple-A under his belt (pending any unforeseen injuries) Gray looks mature beyond his competition and just might be poised for a chance to have a spot in next year’s A’s rotation. Bartolo Colon will be a free agent thus opening a spot in the rotation for Gray to take over. The determining factor will be what the A’s plan to do with Brett Anderson when he returns from injury and if Gray out pitches Dan Straily in spring training next season. With Straily currently residing in Triple-A as well Gray may have a shot to beat out Straily for a return to the rotation. It would probably be a brief stint unless the hard throwing right hander dominates enough to validate a permanent spot in Oakland.
Next season will see an interesting change in the A’s roster. We may finally see Grant Green and Hiroyuki Nakajima in Oakland along with the re-emergence of Jemile Weeks. We may also see the start of Sonny Gray’s career. He may be the next Ace of the A’s.