*For more background information on Gray checkout out Jason Hunt’s profile from last fall.
It was a three horse race: Mark Appel, Jonathan Gray, and Kris Bryant.
Or, was it Gray :: Appel :: Bryant? Or even Bryant :: Gray :: Appel? The permutations of this very puzzle ensnared the minds of the tweet-o-sphere, the Baseball Internet, and MLB war rooms on June the 8th of 2013. Yes, you all know the answer: Appel to the Astros, Bryant to the Cubs, and Gray to Rockies.
But before Spring 2013, Appel was the only one regarded as a no doubt 1:1- much like Carlos Rodon heading into this year. Scouts had concerns about Bryant’s hit tool, which could impede his massive raw power, and the other high-upside talent seemed to live amongst the high school ranks (hey Clint Frazier). It wasn’t until the college season began that Gray forced himself into the big conversation. Reports from the year before had him 88-92 with the fastball, topping out around 95 with a plus slider; a good prospect, but not first overall.
Gray returned last spring consistently pumping mid-high 90’s heat, fondling triple digits, with improved control and a more consistent slider. The makeover in repertoire held for his pro debut, and mixed with a strong mechanical profile, Gray may well be the best pitching prospect in baseball. Strong words?
Let's look under the hood.
It's universally regarded as a top-of-the-chart offering (80). Not only does it have premium velocity (94-102), but he also creates tremendous downward plane, making it extremely difficult to square. It doesn’t have much lateral movement, which bodes well for his control and park. The arm action is quick and he hides the ball well, meaning the batter hardly sees anything. He gets excellent extension on the pitch, which allows the freakish velocity to appear even quicker.
The BP prospect staff anointed Gray’s slider as the best of its kind in the minor leagues (they literally rubbed it with oils). It has tight two-plane break, and looks remarkably like the fastball until it makes a sharp left turn. The Rockies took it away for Gray’s 4 game rookie ball stint last season. The reasoning: heavy college usage, and--besides wear and tear-- he needed to remove the Change from storage anyway.
Speaking of the Changeup, it's blossomed. As noted, he didn’t throw many at Oklahoma. It’s a straight change, so the deception in the pitch comes mostly from the speed differential and arm speed rather than movement. If he continues to add feel and consistency, it will be an absolute weapon.
Mechanics & Make-Up:
Gray has a very stable delivery. If you watch him, you can see his head track directly at his target. This type of stability is typical of pitchers with excellent control- which he should eventually have. As an amateur, Gray’s mechanics were criticized for his stiff landing leg at foot strike, but he remedied the issue over the summer (amazing !!). He has the requisite size and demeanor (snarly) of a true number one starter.
This may sound bullish, but I think Gray has the potential to be a top 5 SP. No one in the minors- except maybe Lucas Giolito- matches his upside. His entire fantasy downside is linked to his home park- Coors. While the mile-high air is a death sentence to Pitchers who rely on fastball movement and curveballs (ask Mike Hampton), neither pitch is essential to Gray's repertoire. All this is so say that if you could cast an Ace for Coors, Gray would be your model.The Rockies rotation is replete with garbage so further dominance should put him on the fast track to the show (Late 2014). Keep your eyes peeled, the fastball/slider combo will make even your onions weep.