Undeniably, of all the aspects of baseball that were absent in 2020, the orchestration of a minor league season—on any level of the farm—was perhaps the most missed of all.
Fortunately, many top prospects who otherwise might have been relegated to work out on their own were permitted to train with big leaguers at their respective teams’ alternate sites as part of the implementation of the 60-man player pool, a new concept that expanded upon the traditional MLB 40-man roster.
Nevertheless, despite there not being any minor league ball this year, it still did not stop some of the bigger outlets from publishing their annual reports ranking many of the best prospects in the game. Among those publications was a recent piece by Jim Callis, Jonathan Mayo and Mike Rosenbaum of MLB.com that highlighted every team’s top 2021 Rookie of the Year candidate.
Gray was one of those players who was included in the 60-man player pool, allowing him to train throughout the season with the best players and coaches in the organization. Prior to the stoppage of spring training due to the coronavirus, the Brooklyn native made three Cactus League appearances, two of which were starts, tallying a total of five full innings of work.
For those who may have forgotten, Gray, alongside infielder Gavin Lux, was named by the Dodgers as one half of the Branch Rickey Minor League Players of the Year in 2019.
In 26 games—25 starts—combined in 2019 between Low-A Great Lakes, High-A Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Tulsa, Gray finished with an 11-2 record, a 0.99 WHIP and a 2.28 ERA with 147 strikeouts against just 31 walks.
Gray started his 2019 campaign in the Midwest League, posting a 1.93 ERA in five starts before being promoted to Rancho. In 12 Cal League starts, he went a perfect 7-0 with a 2.14 ERA, a 0.97 WHIP and a .209 opponents’ batting average, throwing many of his innings in the hitter-friendly confines of LoanMart Field. After earning a promotion to Tulsa on July 17, Gray pitched to a 2.75 ERA across nine games (eight starts) for the Drillers.
Gray was selected in the second round of the 2018 draft by the Cincinnati Reds out of Le Moyne College in New York. He was acquired along with infielder Jeter Downs in a trade from the Reds on December 21, 2018 that saw Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Alex Wood and Kyle Farmer shipped back to Cincinnati.
In 38 career minor league games (37 starts) over two seasons, Gray is 26-7 with a 2.37 ERA and has struck out 206 batters against 48 walks.
As far as his repertoire goes, Gray’s bread and butter is his heater, which has some natural cutting action while sitting comfortably in the mid-nineties. It has been clocked as high as 98 MPH in 2018. For his age, he commands his fastball extremely well. His slider is also considered a plus pitch, but it often lacks command, unlike his fastball. He also throws a changeup that’s somewhat raw. Presently, he’s being groomed as a starter, but based on the brilliance of his four-seamer, he could end up throwing in relief at some juncture of his career, particularly with regards to his big-league debut.
For as stacked as the Los Angeles rotation is, it’s tough seeing Gray contending for a spot in the front five right out of camp. However, depending on how front-office boss Andrew Friedman decides to build his bullpen, there might be a spot for Gray in relief before he buds into the fine starter that many pundits expect.
We’ve crazier things happen in the past—most recently with Dustin May solidifying himself on the roster after making an emergency spot start on Opening Day 2020.