Rockies’ top pitching prospect Jon Gray will have to wait for his major league debut after he was reassigned to the minors on Friday. Gray hasn’t pitched above Double-A, but was in the mix for a rotation spot. Instead, he will start the season in Triple-A Albuquerque after posting a 5.93 ERA in 13 and 2/3 innings pitched. As bleak as that number looks, he did strike out 11 batters and had moments where he flashed his sky high potential.
Gray broke onto the minor league scene with a bang, registering a 1.93 ERA and 12.3 strikeouts per nine innings in a season split between Rookie-ball and High-A. A call-up to Double-A didn’t go as smoothly as he ended the season with a 3.91 ERA, a 1.19 WHIP and three walks per nine innings, indicating that although he didn’t allow many base-runs, those that he did, scored.
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With a fastball that can reach triple digits, he has the pure stuff to blow away hitters in the minors. The issue for Gray comes with his secondary pitches once hitters are sitting on the fastball. With a plus slider with excellent movement he has a solid put away pitch, but early on in the count, he has few other options. His changeup is still a work in progress as he tends to leave it over the plate where hitters tee off on it.
After starter Christian Bergman was assigned to the bullpen, Gray’s only competition, Eddie Butler, had a 5.29 ERA with 10 strikeouts during the spring and received the nod for the final spot. With Jorge De La Rosa likely returning from injury sooner than expected, it may have given the Rockies incentive to allow their top prospect to continue to develop in the minors.
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The nail in Gray’s coffin came against the Cubs last week, when he yielded six earned runs and four hits in two thirds of an inning. The worst of it came when Gray gave up a three-run home run to Cubs’ starter Jake Arrieta. Gray also committed a few fielding mistakes on bunts while his infielders didn’t help. “I was just going too fast,” Gray said to the Denver Post of a couple of bobbled bunts. “I didn’t tell myself I had time. I didn’t do what I practice. I panicked, went way too fast for myself and bobbled the ball. I’ve got to settle it down out there. That can’t happen.”
He somewhat bounced back against the Diamondbacks on Thursday, allowing three runs and three hits while striking out four in four innings, but it was too little, too late.
Despite the rough spring, the former first round draft pick has number one starter potential. His pure stuff and early success combined with the Rockies’ lack of pitching depth should earn him a call-up before mid-season. If he reaches his full potential the Rockies’ decision would look even better as the team gained another year of control by hindering the accrual of service time of what could be the future ace of their franchise.