Draft Prospect Q&A: Sonny Gray

As the 2011 Draft draws closer, MLBTR will be introducing you to a handful of the top eligible prospects with a series of Q&As. The series debuts today with one of the top college pitchers in the nation.

Vanderbilt right-hander Sonny Gray has "the best curveball in college baseball," according to Baseball America, and ESPN.com's Keith Law suggested last week that he has an outside shot of being the first overall pick this June. According to Baseball America, some scouts wonder if Gray's future is in the bullpen. But with an above-average curve, a 93-96 mph fastball and a change-up, he could become a starter like Mike Minor and David Price, two Vanderbilt products who were selected in the first round.

Gray talked to MLBTR about his size, his curveball and Roy Halladay. Here's a transcript of our conversation:

Ben Nicholson-Smith – Can you describe your pitches and what kind of pitcher you are?

Sonny Gray – I’m a guy that has a pretty good fastball and I like to use it a lot. I also rely on my curveball quite a bit. It’s been a pitch that I’ve been able to go to for a while – ever since I can remember pitching. I like to throw mainly a lot of fastballs and curveballs and I’d say between fastball and curve that’s probably 85% of the pitches I throw. 

Varying speeds on my curveball of course, so some are a few miles an hour harder, which can make a difference, and I mix in change-ups. I kind of like to just go after the hitter and just throw my stuff against their bat and see what I can get out of it.

BNS – It sounds like you’re pretty comfortable with your curveball at this point.

SG - Yeah, I’ve always been pretty confident in it. It’s always been something I can use and it’s always worked pretty well. If I need to make a big pitch, I’ll go to either that or my fastball, but I’m pretty confident in [the curve]. 

I’m really confident in my fastball as well and I’m gaining confidence in the change-up. This year I’m going to end up throwing it a lot more and I threw it quite a bit this summer, so I’ve just got to gain more confidence in that pitch and I’m starting to get that, since I’m starting to have success with it.

BNS - Is that one of your goals for the season? To keep working the change-up into the repertoire?

SG - It’s not one of my goals. My goal is to get outs and win games. If it’s throwing a change-up that certain night, then I’ll throw a change-up. If it’s not throwing any, I won’t throw any. If it’s mixing everything, I’ll mix everything. It’s just the way the flow of the game goes.

I don’t think that’s a goal – ‘today I’ve got to make sure I throw a change-up.’ I don’t really look at it that way. It’s just whatever I need for each particular outing.

BNS - Tell me about how you’ve changed or evolved as a pitcher since the Cubs took you back in [the 27th round in] ’08.

SG - I’ve changed a lot actually. I still go with the fastballs and curveballs, but I’ve added I think 25 or 30 pounds. Back then I was 5’11” and 170 or 175 [pounds] and now I’m right at 200. 

I’ve learned how to pitch a lot more. In high school you can kind of throw it by people, but here you have to learn how to throw the ball to both sides of the plate – which is important – and I’ve learned a lot about the game. I’ve learned how to pitch, I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’m able to correct things now if something’s not going well, I can correct things in the moment which was something I wasn’t able to do then. Back then I’d try to rear back and throw as hard as I could if something wasn’t going right, but now I know why stuff happens and I’m able to correct if from one pitch to the next.

BNS - You said that throwing change-ups is not one of your goals, but what goals would you say that you do have for the rest of the college season?

SG - The goal is just to get out there and give the team a chance to win every game. There’s going to be outings when I’m really good, when my stuff’s real good and there’s also going to be outings like last Friday when my stuff’s not quite there and the offense is going to have to pick me up [Gray pitched 4 1/3 innings, allowing three runs and four hits and striking out six against the University of San Diego on Friday]. But to be able to give the team a chance to win every Friday night I go out there is one of my main goals.

BNS – Do you watch a lot of big league baseball? Are you a big baseball fan in general?

SG - Yeah, I am actually.

BNS - What major leaguers do you look up to?

SG - Roy Halladay does things the right way. His team follows around him; he knows how to come into a new place and maintain his work ethic.

Also the guys coming out from Vandy, guys that I’m pretty close with. I check to see how David [Price] does every time he pitches. We’ve developed a little bit of a relationship, coming from Vandy. So I look up to him and his success as well.

BNS - How much does the success of a guy like David Price or Mike Minor drive you?

SG - It does. Just to be able to see what they’ve done and try to build on that. To think what they’ve been able to accomplish and by doing it the right way. Especially coming here – the program has high expectations and I think that they kind of brought this program to a new level that hadn’t been pushed before. 

And me being here I’m just trying to get to the next level that they weren’t able to make it to. And I’m going to leave it to the guys that come behind us. But we want to push the program far – to where it hasn’t been [a College World Series championship].

BNS - When you look ahead, say, five years from now, do you see yourself as a starter or do you see yourself as a reliever?

SG - I’ve always thought of myself as a starter. Some people say 'he’s shorter,' but I’ve seen myself as a starter. I closed my freshman year here at Vanderbilt and it was the first time I’d ever been out of the bullpen and it was actually an enjoyable time, I actually had a lot of fun with it.

It was a new role I hadn’t played before but once I got used to it it was something I enjoyed doing. I looked forward to throwing more than once in a week. So I’ve always seen myself as a starter, but if anything were to happen, I’m versatile, I’m not someone who’s just stuck on something and doesn’t want to try to experiment or do whatever needs to be done.

BNS - What about all of this interest in the draft? You have people like me calling, you have Baseball America writing about you, you’re on ESPN. How much of that stuff is exciting and really cool and how much of that is a distraction?

SG – I think it’s very exciting. It’s nice to receive recognition for the hard work you’ve put in from way before college, growing up playing the game. It’s nice to receive some kind of recognition, but then again you kind of have to take a step back and take a deep breath and look at the bigger picture. And for me right now the bigger picture is next Friday night and the next Friday after that. It’s just this season and this team, putting this team in position to win and stuff off the field can come off the field. It is nice to receive that stuff, but you have to take it with a grain of salt and just do what you can do.

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16 Comments on "Draft Prospect Q&A: Sonny Gray"

4 years 6 months ago

Good job Ben and good job Sonny. He might be the best “pitcher” in a draft that consists of some good throwers. He’s shown that you don’t need power to get guys to chase or hit the ball to short. I’d rather have Cole or Purke, but Gray might be the best pitcher.

4 years 6 months ago

Yeah, BA says he’s poised out on the mound. Possible top-five pick for sure.


4 years 6 months ago

Easily, I think it would be silly for the Orioles/Royals/Nationals to go with Norris or Jungmann instead of Gray. Like Christian Colon of last year, he was the safest bet to be a “good” major leaguer, this year that might be Sonny Gray.

4 years 6 months ago

Exactly. And that’s what I mean by “Pitcher.” Look at Gerrit Cole/Stephen Strasburg: Throwers, Doesn’t Strasburg have an arm injury? Kind of?

What about Pedro/Oswalt/Lincecum, and other short “pitchers?” They know how to pitch, and how many combined injuries did those 3 have over the course of their careers? 1? 2? None?

4 years 6 months ago

i don’t think it’s fair to say that an arm injury qualifies you as a “thrower” instead of a “pitcher” – especially for strasburg who is DEFINITELY a pitcher

4 years 6 months ago

How does he throw his curve? Is it sweeping or top to bottom with good break?

4 years 6 months ago

More 12-6 than 2-8. It’s a really good pitch. He mixes speeds like a pro, has plus command of his fastball and change. Small frame but it’s not like he doesn’t throw hard for a small guy. Brings a lot of energy on the mound.

4 years 6 months ago

Yeah and it’s not like there aren’t small right-handed starters in the majors. Oswalt, Pedro and Lincecum aren’t exactly huge.

4 years 6 months ago

My reply to myself up top a second ago was meant to reply to this :)

These guys are just nasty even though they are dimunitive.

Craig Cutler
4 years 6 months ago

He’s going to look good in a Cardinals uniform…………………………..O.K. I can hope right?

4 years 6 months ago

The kid’s name is a paradox. Think about it.

4 years 6 months ago

IMO Sonny Grey if available when the Indians pick he will be off the board he is exactly what they are looking for to go along with Pomeranz and Alex White for the 2012 or 2013 rotation.

And lets not forget the indians als draft Robert Aviles who was originally thought of as a 1st rounder but slide because he was thought to have a serious injury and that turned out not to be the case, he also could find his way to the rotation in 2013.

4 years 4 months ago

i keep seeing everybody refering him to pedro oswalt or lincecum but i guarentee you he will be more like the ted lilly type 15 wins a year but not a ace but i see him more as a closer like ryan franklin sure you still want him cardinal fans

4 years 2 months ago

Sonny is a great friend, and an even better pitcher. He’ll go far.

4 years 6 months ago

Wait, his name isn’t “I can resist anything except temptation?”

4 years 6 months ago

Either or.