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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