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July 26, 2013

Raising Aces

There and Back Again

by Doug Thorburn


In the week leading up the All-Star break, a trio of American League pitchers made their respective MLB debuts. The rookies were summoned from the minors in a span of three consecutive days and immediately sent into action, only to have each of their tours cut short with a return trip to the bush leagues. The call-ups were well-covered by my BP colleagues, and though the sips of coffee were brief, you can bet that the memories from their first taste of the majors will last a lifetime. Let’s take a mechanical look at what we can expect when this trio returns.

July 10 – Sonny Gray, Oakland at Pittsburgh
The A's tabbed the Vanderbilt product with their first pick in the 2011 draft (no. 18 overall). He was promoted aggressively, receiving an assignment to double-A Midland within two months of being drafted and after just two innings of rookie ball. The numbers from his first full season were less than inspiring, but he has rebounded this season with a sub-3.00 ERA and more than a strikeout per inning in over 100 frames for triple-A Sacramento. The All-Star break precluded the need for a fifth starter in the Oakland rotation, so the A's called up Gray to pitch out of the bullpen while Dan Straily stayed on turn with the River Cats.

Gray was promoted on July 10th and made his major-league debut that same evening in an interleague match-up with the surging Pirates. He spun two clean frames in a game that Oakland was trailing by five runs, which helped to eat some innings after starter Tommy Milone had exited in the third. Gray struck out three of the seven batters he faced, including this swinging K of Clint Barmes on a wicked breaking ball for the right-hander's first big-league punchout.


Gray brings legit power from his sub-six-foot frame, averaging 95-mph during his stint out of the Oakland bullpen. With two plus pitches, he can be a relief asset to the A's right away, though his ultimate role could be determined by his development of the changeup. The A's have every intention of letting him stick in the rotation, so Gray was re-exchanged for Straily on July 19 in order to return to his regularly-scheduled regimen of frustrating Pacific Coast League batters six innings at a time. He finished his initial stint in the show with zero runs and just three baserunners allowed over four innings of mop-up duty, including six strikeouts and a single walk.

Mechanics Report Card

Balance

50

Momentum

60

Torque

65

Posture

45

Release Distance

55

Repetition

N/A

For an explanation of the grading system for pitching mechanics, please consult this pair of articles.

Gray stands out among the pitchers in the Oakland organization with his high-energy mechanics as well as his relative instability during the delivery. His torque is even bigger than the radar gun suggests, with tremendous hip-shoulder separation that comes from a big upper-body twist in conjunction with a strong delay of trunk rotation—his belt buckle is nearly facing the plate before the shoulder-axis fires. Gray also carries plus momentum in his arsenal of power mechanics, with a strong early move toward the plate as well as an explosive second gear. Some evaluators might see the slight frame and the electric stuff as harbingers of future bullpen duty, but while Gray's first two MLB appearances were in relief, they were preceded by starts in his first 50 pro games.

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article What You Need to Know:... (07/26)
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Premium Article Raising Aces: Back to ... (07/19)
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Premium Article Raising Aces: What Hap... (08/02)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Pebble Hunting: The Re... (07/26)

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