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Gray latest great ace at Vandy
Special to CollegeBaseballInsider.com
there be no doubt about it, David Price, Casey Weathers, Jeremy
Sowers and Mike Minor – all first-round draft picks in the major
league draft – left big shoes to fill for Sonny Gray (right)
when he joined the Vanderbilt pitching staff two years ago.
shoes fit just fine. In fact, they just may be a little snug for
comfort for the rising junior.
ultra-talented right-hander enjoyed a stellar sophomore
campaign, posting a 10-5 record with a 3.48 ERA in 108.2
innings. He also struck out 113, walked 48 and limited teams to
a .246 batting average to help lead the Commodores to within one
game of the College World Series, and to the second-best record
in school history (46-20).
followed that up by becoming the third Commodores pitcher in the
past five years (Price and Minor) to be named Baseball
America’s 2010 Summer Player of the Year for his outstanding
work with Team USA. He registered a 3-0 record with a 0.38 ERA
and an astounding 37 to 4 strikeout/walk ratio in 24 innings
against the best competition the world had to offer.
a huge stride forward for a player who came into the SEC with a
blazing fastball that he had grown accustomed to simply blowing
by hitters early in his career.
had to learn to not try and strike every hitter out when I got
to this level, and that was the biggest adjustment I think I had
to make,” Gray said. “I had to learn to know when and how to try
and strike out batters in certain situations.
“College hitters are a lot better, and they will take the
breaking ball out of the zone so it means you might have to
throw a lot more pitches to get outs. I have learned to pitch to
contact, to throw the fastball with more movement, to try and
get more outs early in the count. It is an area of the game that
DJ [pitching Coach Derek Johnson] preaches so it is something
that I will continue to work on this year, and hopefully it will
help me to go deeper into games.”
philosophy has been very successful for Johnson, who recently
was named American Baseball Coaches Association/Baseball
Assistant Coach of the Year, his second national award.
a very willing student in Gray.
is a great athlete but from a pitcher’s standpoint, he had to
learn to slow the game down a little bit,” Johnson said. “The
game seems to come at you at 90 miles an hour in your first
year, so he was no different in that aspect.
not sure that his stuff got any better, but I think slowing down
and focusing on developing a one-pitch-at-a-time mentality was a
big factor of him coming into himself.”
Pitching is always at a premium, but the future first-round
draft choice displayed an often overlooked part of his game when
he was chosen as a member of the SEC All-Defensive team after
the season. Gray played flawless defense in 26 opportunities
with 10 putouts and 16 assists.
play as a fifth infielder was further recognized when he became
the first player in Vanderbilt history to be named to the
Rawlings NCAA Division I Gold Glove Team announced last week.
something that I don’t get to talk about much,” said Gray, a
native of Smyrna, Tenn. “That is something that we work really
hard on here. We work on our agility with some football stuff
that helps us to get off the mound quickly and field the ball
and then it becomes important to make a good throw.
“Playing defense off the mound becomes even more important with
the new bat restrictions because I think you will see more bunts
this season. It is definitely something that I take great pride
in and will continue to work hard at.”
Combine that mindset with superb skills and it won’t be long
before Gray will be following in the footsteps of Sowers, Price
and Minor again...this time, to the major leagues.
(photos by Jimmy Jones)