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2011 Draft Profile: Sonny Gray

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With the Rule 4 draft coming up, I’ve been examining some potential first-round picks for the Mets. In case you missed my previous profiles, you can find them here: Levi Michael, Taylor Jungmann, George Springer and Mikie Mahtook, Taylor Guerrieri

Sonny Gray

Position: Pitcher
School: Vanderbilt
Level: Junior
Birth Date: 11/7/89
Height: 5-11
Weight: 195 lbs.
Throws: Right
Bats: Right

2009 5 1 4.30 22 4 58.2 29 65 6 20 72
2010 10 5 3.48 13 13 108.2 48 101 4 48 113
2011 11 3 2.01 16 16 107.2 28 73 4 39 115

Why you should celebrate if the Mets take him: He has a track record of stuff and performance that also highlights clear improvement. This is a pitcher who has consistently improved from one season to the next, and the numbers bear that out. The stuff is outstanding and has been since Gray was in high school. Despite his stature, his fastball can scrape 97 miles per hour, sitting in the 90-95 range, and he’s smart enough to take a little off here and there. Gray also maintains that velocity very well—he’s one of those guys whose last pitch is often the hardest he’s thrown. His best pitch is his curve, maybe the best power curve in this draft class. He throws it in the low-80s and cant throw it for strikes. It’s a nasty pitch that will leave a lot of hitters looking.

A lot of scouts had criticized his changeup in the past, but he’s since revamped it, and he unveiled it in May. Reports were very positive. Thrown like a splitter, it has downward bite and has the potential to be at least average. It’s done a lot to assuage scouts’ doubts that he’ll never make it as a starter.

His mound presence is incredible, and I love the way he believes in going right at hitters. He doesn’t get cute, he doesn’t get too fine with pitches. Scouts everywhere praise his competitive streak, and he’ll never get unhinged when he misses a pitch, instead seeing it as a challenge to overcome.

Why you should hope the Mets call someone else’s name: The biggest question remaining about Gray is his size. At 5 feet, 11 inches, he doesn’t have that classic starter’s frame you prefer in a pitcher. As a result, many scouts feel he’ll just get hurt and will ultimately need to move to the bullpen. Without that extra height, he can’t stride as far as other pitchers, requiring his arm to do more of the heavy lifting, and you can get a sense of the effort when you watch him pitch.

There are also some questions about his arm action. He pronates his elbow quite late, which is causing the elbow to rise above his shoulder. Doing so is a velocity booster, but generally speaking it’s not worth the damage to the shoulder. When you also consider his height and the effort in his delivery, he’s an injury risk.

Otherwise, the only other issue that I can see—provided you believe in the new changeup, which doesn’t have a track record yet—is his command. It’s not a big problem; I think his command is fine going forward, but it’s not a plus. He has some repeatability issues—there are some moving parts at the beginning of his wind-up, and he’ll sometimes lose his release point slightly—but it’s a secondary concern. His fastball’s also straight, again because he doesn’t have the height to throw on a downward plane, but I should note that his curve and change are both pitches that hitters pound into the ground, and last I checked he’d actually posted very solid groundball rates this season.

What I think: I like Gray a lot. I’m a little worried about his long-term health, but he’s an outstanding pitcher with extraordinary stuff and enough polish to make him a fast-mover. I do think I prefer Jungmann a little more from a safety standpoint, but there’s little doubt in my mind that Gray’s ceiling is higher. The easy comparison for Gray is Roy Oswalt—they have similar offerings, similar stuff, and similar mechanics. A less successful comp might be Jeremy Guthrie, a shorter pitcher with very similar stuff to Gray when he was drafted.