Q&A: Jon Gray, Rockies Future Ace

Jonathan Gray likes to be referred to as “Jon.” The more informal means of address is befitting his down-to-earth Oklahoma roots. If the 21-year-old right-hander fulfills his potential, he’ll be known by yet another moniker: Colorado Rockies ace.

Drafted third overall this summer out of the University of Oklahoma, Gray is the definition of a power pitcher. He delivers his high-90s fastball from a 6-foot-4, 255-pound frame and his slider induces more than its fair share of swings-and-misses. He finished second in the nation in strikeouts and posted a 1.63 ERA in his junior season with the Sooners.

His first nine outings in pro ball were equally impressive. After debuting in the Pioneer League, Gray went 4-0, 0.75 with Modesto in the California League. In 24 innings there, he logged 36 strikeouts and allowed just 10 hits.


Gray on his developmental priority: “I had a player plan and one of the big things on it was to develop a third pitch, to really find a way to use a changeup in a game. They wanted me to have it down as a feel pitch in every outing. You can’t rely on two pitches — as a starter you need all three — so it’s important to throw a changeup. It’s a pitch that really helps out your fastball. That was definitely ‘Plan Number One,’ and I think I’ve taken a big step with it. I feel like it’s coming along really well.

“I had [the changeup] before, but only threw it maybe once or twice a game in college, because a lot of guys weren’t hitting my fastball. They would be late on my fastball and if I threw my changeup they would run right into it. It was kind of a dangerous pitch for me.

“It’s a version of a circle changeup. I’ve gripped it like a two-seam, but have recently made it more like a four-seam changeup. I have a small circle on the outside of the ball, but my hands are really offset from that. I hold it a little different from everyone else, but it‘s working for me.”

On being a power pitcher: “My approach isn’t to throw to hitters’ weaknesses. I’d rather throw to my strengths, and if they can hurt me there, then I’ll change it up the next time they come through. Other than that, it’s just working down in the zone and getting ahead in counts.

“My fastball is a four-seam that I get some arm-side run with. It’s pretty heavy, too. There’s been a little discussion about [adding a two-seam]. That’s something I may try working on this offseason.

“In college this year, I topped out at 102 [mph]. Here, in pro ball, I think I hit 100. I throw a lot of my fastballs around 94, and then will throw 98-99 late in the count. A lot of it has to do with commanding my fastball, and I’ll use more velocity later.”

On his slider and mound demeanor: “My slider is pretty much just a slider. The thing I do different with it is throw one for a strike around 82-83, and then I’ll throw one around the edge of the plate really hard, like 88-89. I guess you could say I throw it two different ways.

“I’m pretty calm, really. At the same time, I carry intensity. I’m not herky-jerky or crazy, or anything like that. I’m just calm, but serious at the same time. I don‘t necessarily use my velocity to intimidate hitters, but it gives me a lot of confidence.”

On not signing with the Yankees in 2010: “It was kind of a gamble, really. The second time I got drafted was by the Yankees [in the 10th round] and their offer was $500,000 to sign. The draft rules were going to change before I got drafted again, so I knew I’d have to go in the first or second round to get a better offer. It was a gamble of ‘Can I get there and do it?’ I basically just took my chances and told myself I was going to get better. I was going to put myself in the first or second round.”

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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. His first book, Interviews from Red Sox Nation, was published by Maple Street Press in 2006. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA

13 Responses to “Q&A: Jon Gray, Rockies Future Ace”

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  1. tz says:

    Guaranteed his development will be treated differently from Garrett Cole, since Coors takes away the luxury of pitching to contact. It would make sense for the Rockies to continue developing his changeup to give him a combination that would let him ring up the K’s in the majors. The slider could then slot in as a third pitch.

    Sounds like he’s off to the right track. If the Rockies get more prospects like Gray AND develop them appropriately, they might develop a pitching staff that has an edge at Coors.

    Thanks David!

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  2. jfree says:

    He is an intriguing prospect. Right now, he’s still clearly in generic pitcher development stage though. The real test for him and the Rockies will be next year (presumably) when he starts throwing three pitches with success at AA. If he gets promoted from there to MLB, then expect 2-3 years of struggle at the MLB level before he either breaks or figures out altitude. If OTOH the Rockies actually force him to AAA for a year or so and let him see the effects of altitude on pitch control/effectiveness – and alter his repertoire – and see the changes; then I can see him being Ubaldo v2 for 2-3 years when he finally arrives.

    Any longer career success at Coors will depend on whether the Rockies have learned the dangers of trying to get 200 IP per year out of Coors starters.

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    • Yank says:

      First off, Jonny Gray projects to be worth 4.1 WAR next year from ZIPS. So struggling for 3 years is bulls***. Second, ain’t no way he gonna be Ulbaldo 2.0 because Ubaldo was worth over 15 WAR over his best two year stretch and only 3 other pitchers have sustained a two year stretch like that since 2000. Gray isn’t that good.

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    • Balthazar says:

      Jon Gray just suffocated High A hitters in an extreme hitter’s league. While developing a third pitch with a different grip. Yes, yes, tiny sample, and agreed AA will tell us a lot more. If he’s dominating there, _brief_ time on the launch pad in Colorado Springs would be good. But ‘a year or so’ doesn’t really wash. Is he commanding his pitches, and are the peripherals good, are the only real issue, to me. That said . . . I doubt anything can really prepare a guy for pitching in Coors.

      As far as 200 innings, yeah, that’s likely a bad thing with half of it in that environment, especially for a young guy who might be tempted just to reach back for triple digits as a way to avoid big innings. Pitch counts and innings limits would be in order more than in most situations, less due to Gray than due to Coors, as you imply. What I liked about Jon’s remarks here is his focus. He’s got to just see the sign and see the glove and not think too much about where the fences are. No cure all, but it may help mentally resist the conditions a bit. ‘Rocky Mountain Hypoxia’ can beat down a hurler in those parts . . . .

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  3. rockymountainhigh says:

    As a Rockies fan, I’m excited to see this guy either labor in AA for four years before becoming the Sky Sox ace, or else develop into a solid major leaguer who is traded for nothing.

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    • Alex says:

      “Traded for nothing”? Exactly how many pitchers developed as Rockies have been traded for nothing? If you say Ubaldo, I’ll slap you. he was traded for two top 50 prospects who so happened to not work out. You have no idea what you’re talking about. You’re complaining for the sake of complaining.

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      • Yank says:

        Pomeranz was seen as more of a back-end #5 starter with below average stuff but okay feel for pitching. Alex White was seen as a good 8th inning guy, but his lack of feel for a breaking ball or splitter made him ill-suited for a rotation spot. Since being traded, Ubaldo has put up 6 WAR. I’d say that is a pretty valid gripe.

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  4. Balthazar says:

    David, I appreciate the interview. Nothing like a guy’s own words to let you see a view on how he does what he does.

    And regarding Jon G.’s words, he really impressed me. He has a crystal clear idea of how he wants to get results and what his tools are. He has a very good idea regarding how to pitch, if you read what he says. “Use the grip that works. Pitch to my strengths. Have three different weapons. Keep the ball down. Get ahead. Raise velocity for the punch out. Expand the zone on breaking pitches. Change it up if the batter’s good enough to force that.” If you add ‘Make them swing at _my_ pitch,’ and ‘Be disciplined about conditioning’ (which will be important for Jon), you’ve just covered a reasonable ten essentials of successful pitching as far as I’m concerned. Gray knows his work, his youth notwithstanding.

    Jon Gray was easily the most interesting pitcher in the 2013 draft to me, and I’ll be following his development avidly. Colorado’s no great place for a pitcher, but still. Gray, Bryant, and Austin Wilson were the ones who stood out for me (not just speaking of the first round). Each has things to work on, Wilson obviously being further away (but that was known), but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Gray was the first First Rounder to make it to The Bigs. The minor league season numbers of a few others supporting their upside get them into the next tier.

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