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One of the Oakland Athletics’ top prospects, Gray was a hot commodity as early as five years ago when the Cubs drafted him out of high school in the 2008 amateur draft. It’s no surprise, in his junior year at Smyrna HS he went 11-2 with a 0.95 ERA, leading his team to the state tournament and receiving a nomination for the best player in the nation.
His senior year of high school, he was dominant as he went 4-0 with a 0.79 ERA before his season was cut short by injury. The injury caused him to slide in the draft broads and the Cubs took him in the 27th round. He opted to go to college instead, knowing he was better than a 27th round pick.
In his sophomore year, Gray went 10-5 with a 3.48 ERA and a team-best 113 strikeouts. In his junior year, he finally hit his stride and went 12-4 with a 2.43 ERA and 132 K as he led Vandy to its first ever College World Series. He was finally ready and Billy Beane was quick to grab him with the 18th overall pick in the 2011 draft.
The A’s wasted no time as they sent Gray to Double-A after a single start in the rookie league, bypassing Single-A entirely. In his first five games, Gray put up a 0.45 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 18 K/6 BB over 20 IP. This made everyone take notice as MLB.com ranked him the 85th top prospect in the nation and Baseball America dubbed him 65th best.
In his first full season at Double-A, however, Gray struggled as he allowed 158 hits and 58 walks over 152 innings. It was the first time Gray had been bad at any level and even his K/9 plummeted from 8.1 to 5.9. Gray went 6-9 on the year with a 4.26 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, and 99 K/58 BB. His stock plummeted and he was no longer a top 100 prospect in the eyes of the powers that be.
Luckily, Billy Beane is smarter than the powers that be and decided to promote Gray to Triple-A anyway. Playing for the Sacramento River Cats, Gray has blossomed into the pitcher most thought he could be. Through his first 16 starts this year, he is 8-5 with a 2.81 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, and 9.4 K/3.0 BB.
Once again, Beane has wasted no time and has called up Gray to pitch out of the bullpen with the full intention of using him in the rotation in the second half.
Consider the A’s rotation right now. Bartolo Colon has been stellar but faces a possible suspension for his connection to Biogenesis, though he was already suspended 50 games last year. A.J. Griffin has been solid but has given up 18 home runs in 18 games and has a 4.46 ERA and seven homers allowed over his last six starts. Tommy Milone has struggled with the longball too, giving up 19 on the year and posting a 5.92 ERA over his last four starts. Jarrod Parker has been stellar, putting up a 2.31 ERA and .184 BAA over his last 10 starts but is dealing with a hamstring injury that already forced the A’s to push back his last start. Brett Anderson ain’t coming back anytime soon and when he does I’m sure it won’t be for long.
With all that in mind, Sonny Gray is the second first-rounder to be called up by Beane this week, joining fellow River Cat Grant Green. Green is already in the starting lineup, Gray should find himself the opportunity to crack the starting rotation after the All-Star break – just as Dan Straily and A.J. Griffin did last season.
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