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July 11, 2013

The Call-Up

Sonny Gray

by Nick J. Faleris and Bret Sayre


The Situation: With the All-Star break looming, the Athletics do not have a need for a fifth starter until late next week. Accordingly, Oakland is utilizing that roster spot to provide Sonny Gray with his first taste of major-league action, with the 2011 first rounder to work out of the A’s ‘pen.

Background: Gray was a first-round selection out of Vanderbilt University back in 2011, showcasing some of the best raw stuff in the draft but slipping to the A’s at 18th overall due to the depth of talent in the draft class, some questions about his sub-six-foot stature, and the quality of his off-speed. The former ‘Dore carved up the Texas League after signing in 2011 but took a step back, developmentally, in 2012, struggling to implement some mechanical tweaks and suffering through some regression in stuff and command.

2013 has been a different story, with Gray improving his pacing and finding a high level of comfort in each of his offerings. The results speak for themselves, as through 16 games he has averaged over six innings per start while posting an impressive 1.27 WHIP in the hitter-friendly PCL, while holding the opposition to a .249 batting average and whiffing 9.4 batters per nine innings. Additionally, his lively fastball and quality secondaries have resulted in a nearly 1.5:1 groundout to fly out rate, which has aided him in limiting damage when baserunners are on.

The Scouting: Gray’s best weapon is a big, hard 12-to-6 curve, which plays as a plus-or-better offering that he can drop in the zone or bury. It’s the very definition of a swing-and-miss pitch, and PCL hitters have had difficulty picking it up out of his hand. He pairs the power curve with a lively fastball that can be dialed up to 97 mph both early on and in the later innings. While the pitch lacks downward plane due to his size, he makes up for it with the late explosive action on the offering, and the difficulty hitters have in squaring the pitch is evidenced by his groundball and whiff rates.

His third-best offering entering the year, the changeup, continues to rate as merely average, but it serves well as a change-of-pace pitch and also draws soft rollover contact due to some deception in his arm slot and the quality of the fastball. He’ll also mix in a solid slider on occasion that will flash above average, but which is really more as a “show me” pitch. The sum of the parts is a well rounded arsenal that has avoided barrels in a difficult pitching environment this year. His groundout and strikeout rates should help him to limit his rough outings as he feels his way through major league adjustments, and there is little question now he has the tools to start, long term.

Gray has grown as a pitcher since signing with Oakland, and is well equipped to tackle the challenges of facing major-league hitters on a daily basis. He weathered his 2012 tribulations admirably, getting his first real taste of failure and showing an ability to battle through and make adjustments. Despite his smaller stature, he is well put together and has no difficulty maintaining his stuff throughout the duration of his starts (as well as late into the season). He is an intense competitor with a strong mound presence and projects as a good mid-rotation arm with a chance to offer front-end production if everything clicks.

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article Skewed Left: Planning ... (07/11)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article The Call-Up: Grant Gre... (07/08)
Next Column >>
Premium Article The Call-Up: Danny Sal... (07/11)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Painting the Black: Ti... (07/11)

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