A Conversation With Milwaukee Brewers Prospect Joe Gray Jr.

Joe Gray Jr. possesses some of the best raw talent in the Milwaukee Brewers system. A second-round pick in the 2018 draft out of Hattiesburg (Mississippi) High School, the 21-year-old outfielder is coming off a season where he slashed .252/.355/.499 between Low-A Carolina and High-A Wisconsin. Augmenting those numbers were 23 stolen bases, 22 doubles, nine triples, and 20 home runs in 479 plate appearances. Called “a high-risk/reward prospect” by Eric Longenhagen earlier this summer, Gray Jr. capped off his 2021 campaign by competing in the Arizona Fall League with the Salt River Rafters.

Currently Milwaukee’s No. 12 prospect, per The Board, he discussed his development during the penultimate week of AFL action.

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David Laurila: To start, who are you as a hitter?

Joe Gray Jr.: “I’d say I’m still figuring it out. I’m still young and learning to let my body work how it works and not be restricted. That’s what I’m trying to do right now. But I know what I can do. I’m a guy who can drive the ball when I get a pitch out over the plate. I’ve just got to play to my strengths. As I get older and more experienced, through repetitions and at bats, I know it will come.

“Again, I can’t necessarily put too much into ‘who I am.’ I’m not going to put pressure on myself, trying to make sure I’m down with it tomorrow or even next week. This is my first full season, so I’m still trying to figure myself out.”

Laurila: Can you say a little bit more about learning your body, and not restricting yourself? Your level of athleticism is obviously high.

Gray Jr.: “It’s not cutting my athleticism out of my swing because I’m trying to create quick fixes to be competitive. You know what I’m saying? In high school… like, I didn’t get the chance to go to college, but those guys are out there trying to compete and win every single day. It’s not really about development; you’re trying to do whatever you can to go 4-for-4, to get on base.

“Here, we’re in this for the long run. For me, when it comes to my body — figuring my body out — it’s about allowing myself to work freely while doing things with my swing that won’t restrict me. I need to let my athleticism play.”

Laurila: Basically, you’re trying to find the right balance between being an athlete at the plate, and making the necessary adjustments to succeed against higher-quality pitching.

Gray Jr.: “Exactly.”

Laurila: Have you worked with tools like K-Vest and Blast Motion?

Gray Jr.: “I’ve done stuff with Blast Motion. Especially with the Brewers. When we do that is mostly in the offseason. That’s when you work on things, but sometimes the metrics don’t necessarily help you. At the end of the day, numbers can tell you some stuff — or somebody can tell you, ‘swing this way’ — but if the hitter doesn’t believe in what he’s doing, then you really don’t have a plan at all. You can get in the box and go though numerous things, numerous stances, trying to figure out the best way to do this, the best way to do that, and sometimes unconventional is the best conventional for you. Other times it’s a cookie-cutter thing and you’re like, ‘I bet this is it.’ So it just depends on the player, what he feels and what he believes in.”

Laurila: Is there anything unique about your swing or setup?

Gray Jr.: “I would say it’s more of… like right now, towards the back end of the Fall League, I’ve kind of gotten back to where I was earlier in the year. One thing for sure is that my load is a little bit bigger than some people. That’s okay. In reality, it comes down to a rubber-band effect when you get to the launch position. So it’s different, but when it comes to the meat of the operation — when it comes to that load — it’s not really that different.”

Laurila: Do you have a leg-kick?

Gray Jr.: “Yeah, it’s a leg-kick, but my foot and my hands go at the same time. When my foot comes off the ground, that’s when everything starts. They work in sync.”

Laurila: Has anyone tried to train that out of you?

Gray Jr.: “I’ve tried the whole, ‘not moving my hands,’ but it just doesn’t… I mean, I get in the box and it’s, ‘Nah, this isn’t me.’ I need something moving. The question is — or the goal is — to figure out a way to make sure that I get to a point where that move is as efficient as possible.”

Laurila: Can you elaborate on your hands and foot working in sync?

Gray Jr.: “Foot goes up and hands go back. They work in unison. The foot will hang while my hands are kind of locked, and when the foot goes down, that’s when the separation goes.”

Laurila: With hands in mind, some hitters like to start them as close to the trigger position as possible.

Gray Jr.: “The further away you get from your body, the harder it is… some people can do it, and some people can’t. But like I said, differences are catered to the athlete himself. If you can do something and it gets you into the right position, I feel that you should be able to do anything.”

Laurila: Slight change of direction: To the extent that you’re still learning to hit, do you envision yourself as a power hitter?

Gray Jr.: “I wouldn’t say it’s ‘learning to hit’ so much as learning to trust myself. I mean, a hitter is a hitter. If you can’t hit, it ain’t gonna show, not even when it comes in flashes. People have potential; it’s whether or not they figure out a way to trust themselves. Baseball is mental, and a lot of it is confidence. If you don’t have confidence in what you’re doing, it’s going to show. Some guys aren’t as good [natural] hitters as others, but they believe in what they do, so it works out better than it does for somebody who hasn’t completely bought into himself.”

Laurila: What about the power profile, though? You do have good pop.

Gray Jr.: “I’ve got it, but I can’t try. Like, I’m not somebody who can go up to the plate and say, ‘OK, I’m going to try to hit the ball out.’ When I do that is when I start to over-swing. And that’s something I can control. Whenever my power arises and I’m driving balls, it’s because I’m basically trying to do as little as possible.”

Laurila: What is your current height and weight?

Gray Jr.: “I’m six-foot-3 and 215 pounds. I’m listed at less than that, but I’ve grown since I was drafted. And I’ve actually lost weight, too. The offseason of 2019, I was 230 [pounds]. I had to lose weight, because I got too big from too much lifting. For some reason, I’ve always been able to put on weight — put on muscle — really quick. I need to watch that, because I want to stay flexible and fast; I want to stay in center.”

Laurila: How satisfied are you with your season?

Gray Jr.: “Once again, this was just my first full season and I was able to do what I was able to do. At this point, I’m going to use the excuse that I’m still young. But do you know what? After awhile, that’s not going to be an excuse anymore. Over time, I’m going to be able to say that I’ve got the confidence it takes to do what I can do.”





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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