Rockies' Gray looks to meet high expectations

Baseball's fourth-ranked righty prospect balancing patience with determination

Rockies' Gray looks to meet high expectations

DENVER -- Rockies right-handed pitching prospect Jon Gray has noticed a trend toward high Draft picks reaching the Majors quickly. But that doesn't mean the third overall pick from 2013 sees a quick trip to Coors Field as his destiny.

"I look at it as more of an achievement, but if I don't work hard and do the right things it's something I'm never going to get," Gray said. "Yes, I think there is a good chance of me getting there real fast. But the most important thing is when I get there, I want to be ready. I don't want to get there and not be ready for the Major League speed of the game and all that.

"The most important thing is to work hard and try to be the best player I can be."

Gray went 4-0 with a 1.93 ERA in nine starts between Grand Junction in the Rookie League and Class A Advanced Modesto during his first professional season, rolling up 12.3 strikeouts per nine innings. Those impressive numbers, along with the triple-digit fastball he showed at the University of Oklahoma, are among the reasons he is MLB.com's fourth-ranked right-handed pitching prospect.

The Rockies have not announced their non-roster invitations to Major League Spring Training, but they are expected to invite Gray, as well as 2012 supplemental first-round pick Eddie Butler, a right-hander who seems to be on the fast track, although he didn't land in the top 10 righties ranking. Given the fact that Cardinals righty Michael Wacha was pitching in last year's World Series 16 months after being drafted out of Texas A&M and Gerrit Cole was helping the Pirates in the playoffs in his second pro season, Rockies fans are already anticipating seeing Gray and Butler soon.

Most pitchers don't make it that quickly. If Gray does, it will be because of the maturity he developed at Oklahoma and how quickly he adapts to the pro game.

The 6-foot-4 Gray pitches at 235-240 pounds, but as a sophomore at OU he was some 15 pounds heavier.

"It changed from my sophomore year to my junior year, and everything went up -- my strength and my speed," Gray said. "With that, I became 10 times better on the mental side, and my body could do what I wanted it to do."

Gray credits part of his physical development to the coaches and trainers at OU, who taught him and demanded that he follow up on the instruction. Now he must carry what he learned to the pro level, where the game is a job and players are expected to take care of themselves.

"That was a challenge because when you come in after games, the clubhouse manager always has a spread out for everyone, and at first it was hard to choose what I wanted to eat that day," Gray said. "I had to increase my workout to try to burn more. Now I know what to do to plan and make sure I'm eating some healthy meals and working out properly, because it's going to be a long season."

Being on the mound also demanded a higher level of maturity from Gray, who was facing better lineups than he did in college.

"In college, I didn't try to think. I trusted the catcher, and it was actually the coaches calling pitches," Gray said. "In pro ball, it's you and he catcher calling pitches, and that was the biggest thing I had to learn. I had to think what worked before, what the hitter was looking for this next pitch. It took a couple of games to get used to. When I first got to Grand Junction and Modesto, I didn't know what to expect so I trusted my catcher and I'd ask questions. It was a learning experience."

While learning, Gray schooled hitters.

The pro lineups were understandably deeper than the college lineups in terms of talent, but Gray learned that heavy fastball was even more effective because pro hitters have to use wood bats. Gone were some of the cheap hits off the fist that are part of the college game.

"The biggest difference for me is I worked a lot of fastballs in pro ball, and the Rockies wanted me to pitch off the fastball," Gray said. "I threw a lot of offspeed in college. It made my fastball better. As for my changeup, it was the same pitch but using the fastball as much as I did made it a lot better."

In addition to working out at OU, Gray is taking online courses to work toward earning a bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary studies. He also hopes to study big league life when he gets to Spring Training.

"Those veterans have been there a long time, and they know a lot more than I do," Gray said. "The best thing I can do is pay attention and try to pick up on things I can add here or there. I'm trying to get to their level."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.