H/W: 6'4'', 239 lbs.
DOB: 11/5/91 (21 years old)
When college baseball season rolled around, the only notable pitcher for the Oklahoma Sooners was lefty Dillon Overton. Now, a day away from the draft, OU's Jonathan Gray is one of the best pitchers in the draft, and has consistently been mocked to the Astros over the last few weeks. Whether it is because of the possibility that he will command a smaller bonus than Mark Appel, his dominant season or his triple digits fastball, the Astros are seriously considering Gray with their first pick on Thursday.
Gray is from Chandler, Oklahoma, and went to Eastern Oklahoma State College for his freshman year. He then transferred to Oklahoma, where he pitched 102 innings (18 starts) with a 3.16 ERA. He struck out 104 and walked 42, good for a 1.39 WHIP. This spring, however, is when Gray put himself on the map. In 119 innings (16 starts) he's posted a 1.59 ERA with 138 strikeouts and 22 walks (0.84 WHIP). Gray was far and away the most dominant pitcher in the nation this season. Gray will still pitch at least another game this season, as the Sooners won the Blacksburg Regional and will play LSU in the Super Regionals this weekend.
One concern I've had with Gray is his sudden rise to the top of draftboards. I'm usually pretty wary of fast risers who haven't consistently dominated throughout their college careers. It may be a little irrational, but Gray might just be the exception for me. He's no stranger to the draft, going in the 13th round to the Royals after high school and in the 10th round to the Yankees after his freshman year, so his sudden rise isn't as strange.
Gray just looks like an ace on the mound. He has a huge frame, very similar to Roger Clemens, though he's not particularly athletic. The stuff that allowed him dominate this spring is ace-level as well. He can charge his fastball up to 100 MPH, though it sits in the mid 90s. Nick Faleris of Baseball Prospectus gives it a current grade of 70/80, with room to improve. His heater, which has flashed plus-plus, is the best offering of any pitcher in this draft, and that's not an exaggeration.
Gray complements his blow-away fastball with a powerful slider. It's currently a plus pitch, but has room to improve as well. Faleris has it at a 65 currently. He throws it in the mid 80s, and could be a plus-plus in the future. He throws it quite a bit, mixing it in regularly with his fastball. That's two potential plus-plus pitches, if you're keeping score at home.
The third pitch Gray throws is a changeup, which is well behind his other two pitches. He mainly uses it as a change of pace right now, and it's probably below average. It could be a useful weapon down the road if he can get improve it, though it most likely won't be better than major league average. If you can consistently change speeds after a fastball like Gray's, you'll go far in life.
Command and Mechanics
(Subber10 provided some information for this section)
The statistics show that Gray's command is pretty good, as you can tell from his miniscule WHIP this year. It needs a little work though, as he can sometimes awkwardly land to the first base side of the mound, which upsets the balance of his delivery. Faleris gives his command a current grade of 45/60. Gray's command is average, which could be a hindrance to reaching his upside down the road, though his stuff masks some of the shortcomings in his command right now.
Another issue with Gray's deliver is potentially far more serious. It's obvious that Gray is a very powerful pitcher. He throws hard, has great stuff and is a big bodied guy. Power is his M.O. To get that power however, Gray uses his arm much more than the rest of his body. As a result, the strength Gray uses to get his power comes almost exclusively from his arm, instead of being spread throughout his delivery with a push-off from the mound or something. I'm not enough of a mechanics guru to know if this is part of his delivery that can be, or even should be altered, as its what generates his power. I don't want to automatically label Gray as injury prone; I'm sure there are many pitchers who throw with a similar delivery that haven't had issues But in scrutinizing every detail, which I think should be done at 1.1, it does give me some concerns.
As you probably know right now, Gray tested positive for Adderall, a banned stimulant without a prescription. Gray didn't have a prescription, so we have an issue on our hands. A lot of questions came to my mind after the news broke. What did he use it for, a final exam or baseball? Could it have improved his performance? Did he take it one time, or has he been taking it for a while and just now got caught? We won't know the answer to these questions before the draft, but I do know one thing; I trust Jeff Luhnow and the rest of the front office to do their due diligence in finding out the answers. I think they have the right to know the reason why a guy they could potentially invest $6 million in is putting amphetamines into his body.
The fact that Gray generates so much power with his arm does scare me a little bit. But I'm not about to label him as a future injury-prone starting pitcher. His floor is probably in the middle of an MLB starting rotation, or if something really goes wrong, as a closer.
A true, bona fide, #1 ace. Gray's combination of a powerful fastball and sick slider, both of which can be plus plus pitches, would put him at the top of a major league rotation by themselves. Add in some improvements to his changeup and some tweaks in his delivery, and you have your #1 starter for quite some time.
Projected Draft Round
Top three picks. Gray has been mocked to the Astros by more than a few sources over the past few weeks. He probably won't fall past the Cubs at #2 if the Astros go a different route.
Will He Sign?
Yes. He's not a Boras client, which could be a considerable factor in the Astros' decision. He won't sign for a Correa-like discount, but he probably won't cost what Appel would either. If he goes 1.1, I'm thinking he'll sign for between $5-$5.5 million.
If you're a betting man, you take Jonathan Gray at 1.1, no questions asked. If you're a little more cautious, you go with Mark Appel or Kris Bryant. Though Appel has the upside of an ace, Gray could be a more dominant one. Appel throws one more plus pitch than Gray right now, but the potential is there for Gray to throw two plus-plus pitches consistently, which could give him the boost over Appel in some eyes. Add in a little more velocity on his fastball, and you can see why some Astros fans prefer Gray over Appel.
JONATHAN GRAY PROSPECT VIDEO, RHP, UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA (via Steve Fiorindo)
Jonathan Gray (04-05-2013) Oklahoma at Texas (Austin, Texas) (via BPProspectTeam)