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.”
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.