There was no clear-cut No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft, no Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper who easily stood out from the crowd. Instead, there were three candidates, all college products. Stanford right-hander Mark Appel, San Diego third baseman Kris Bryant and Oklahoma right-hander Jonathan Gray went in that order, with the first three picks, to the Astros, Cubs and Rockies.
Today's Pipeline Perspectives has me and Jonathan Mayo discussing whom we would have selected No. 1 overall in June, and whom we would take today four months later. For me, the answer to both questions is the same: Jonathan Gray. Mayo disagrees.
At the time of the Draft, the question boiled down to your preference among prospects. Feel more comfortable taking position players than pitchers? Then Bryant and his top-of-the-scale power made him the easy choice. Like your pitchers to combine stuff, polish and a long track record of success? Then Appel was your man.
But for me, the separator when it comes to making difficult calls between prospects is ceiling. And Gray has more upside than Appel or Bryant.
There's no question that Gray had the best stuff of all the pitchers in this year's Draft. The only debate was which of his pitches makes hitters look more foolish, his fastball or his slider. His heater sits in the mid-90s, reaches triple-digits and features heavy life. His breaking ball isn't quite as consistent, but when it's on, it's an upper-80s weapon with depth and bite.
At 6-foot-4 and 255 pounds, Gray is built to be durable. He made strides with his changeup, his command and his delivery as a junior during the spring at Oklahoma. And while he wasn't a No. 1 starter in a big-time program for three years like Appel was, Gray didn't come out of nowhere, either.
In 2010, he was the top high school pitching prospect in Oklahoma, showing the makings of a plus fastball and slider and concluding his prep career with a 20-strikeout playoff game. The following year, his stuff improved and he was the state's top junior college prospect as a freshman at Eastern Oklahoma Junior College. He got drafted both times, in the 13th round in 2010 by the Royals and in the 10th round in 2011 by the Yankees.
Gray tested positive for a banned stimulant, Adderall, before the Draft, but that didn't concern me. Multiple teams told me that they believed Gray's use was a one-time mistake and wouldn't be a problem going forward.
Since signing for $4.8 million, a Colorado franchise record, Gray has done nothing that would make me change my mind about taking him with the top pick -- though I'll concede that if you believed more in Appel or Bryant, their strong debuts haven't given you any reason to change your mind.
Gray broke into pro ball by pitching in the two highest-scoring Minor Leagues, the Rookie-level Pioneer and the high Class A California. After giving up three runs in his first inning, he surrendered just eight more (six earned) in 36 1/3 frames the rest of the summer. He was spectacular in the Cal League, with a 0.75 ERA, 36-6 strikeouts-to-walks ratio and .128 opponent average in 24 innings.
That's a small sample size, of course, but Gray was just as dominant as he was in college. Though the Rockies haven't had much success in developing pitching in recent years, they now have a potential No. 1 starter who should reach Coors Field in a hurry. His ceiling may be as high as the expectations are for him, and he's off to a promising start in reaching both.