Ladies and gentleman, Jon Gray is officially a member of the Colorado Rockies.
On Sunday night, Thomas Harding, the Rockies beat reporter for MLB.com, tweeted that the Rockies were going to call up Gray to start against the Mariners on Tuesday. As soon as the news gained momentum on Rockies Twitter (which was basically right away), everyone started getting excited about the Rockies again. Admittedly, the excitement was still somewhat subdued because the Tulo trade was still fresh, but there was again a sense of optimism in the Rockies circles again.
#JonGraySignIdeas circulated for a little while until everyone went to bed. As soon as the sun came up, Jon Gray was again the topic of the day.
— Bobby DeMuro (@BobbyDeMuro) August 3, 2015
Two months ago, almost to the day, I wrote that the Rockies should wait a bit longer before calling Gray up to Colorado. While I didn’t give a specific timeline in that piece, I did write it with a 2 month timeline in mind. At the time, I thought that he needed to continue to show more consistency and better efficiency. And it appears that I was justified in those wishes. Not long after that piece, Gray showed some issues with efficiency. He was pitching well, but there were times when it took him 80-90 pitches just to get through 5 innings. He has worked hard to address those issues. While there are still some lingering efficiency issues, he has definitely improved from where he was two months ago.
Since my article two months ago, in 10 starts, Gray has posted a 3.48 ERA in 54.1 IP. Further, he has struck out nearly 12 batters per nine innings and has earned a 17% swinging strike percentage, which measures how many strikes are due to a swing and miss. Since his rocky start, Gray has really turned things around and dominated AAA hitters.
So what can we expect to see when he officially gets called up? On Monday, Nick Groke at the Denver Post wrote a piece explaining that with this call-up, we can expect to see some pitch and innings limits on Gray. Specifically, it appears that the Rockies are going to limit him to 30-35 innings for over the next two months. While that may seem like a bit of a disappointment, the logic behind it is sound.
Given that he is a young, inexperienced pitcher, it makes sense to keep him on a short leash. That will allow him to cut his teeth a bit at a high level with relatively little risk of injury or fatigue. That’s the point. It’s clear at this point that this call up is all about the Rockies giving their top pitching prospect much needed experience to provide a solid foundation going forward into 2016 and beyond.
To the Rockies’ credit, they were consistent in their reasoning for waiting. They wanted to be absolutely positive that he was ready to face big league hitters before calling him up. Over the course of this season, fans and media-types alike have been clamoring for this call-up. The reason for that is simple: Jon Gray is a good pitcher and the Rockies need good pitchers. For that reason, it felt like the Gray call up was imminent since the first pitch was thrown in April.
As it turned out, it was a good idea to send him to AAA after Spring Training. Even though he had a great spring, he struggled mightily to begin the season to the tune of a 2-4 record with a 5.40 ERA and just 38 strikeouts. Part of that was the mental and emotional letdown of not being invited to break camp with the Rockies, but at the same time, it was immediately clear that he needed more refining before he would be ready to really contribute for the “Big Club.”
The Rockies’ staff has told Gray that they want to see him throw his off-speed pitches for strikes (not necessarily in the zone) more consistently. His plus fastball is what got him drafted, but it will be his off-speed pitches that will make him a great pitcher at the big league level.
The fact that over his last ten starts, he has averaged just over 17 pitches per inning shows that Gray has been working fastidiously at improving his pitch efficiency. In other words, when combined with all of the strikeouts he’s been piling up lately, he’s been missing bats, which is a priority if a pitcher wants to pitch well in purple pinstripes.
If Gray continues this momentum, he’ll transition into the bigs with relative ease. It would be ridiculous to assume that he will go out and dominate the Mariners in his first start, but it isn’t unreasonable to expect a solid outing out of him.
Now, what does this call up mean for the Rockies organization going forward? It appears that Jeff Bridich is sending a clear message to the Rockies: we are entering a new era of Rockies baseball. If this call-up was looked at in isolation, it would be easy to claim that it’s just another move to bring up someone who appears ready to compete at a high level.
But when you combine the timing of this move with the trade of Troy Tulowitzki, the Rockies appear ready to begin reaping the benefits of a great farm system with guys like Trevor Story, Christhian Adames, David Dahl, and others that are getting close to seeing big league time. Calling up Jon Gray was and seemingly always has been step number one in that process.
Now, it is important to take his limited appearances this year with a grain of salt. 2015 is remains a year of development for Gray. Chances are he is going to struggle at first. To paraphrase one of the greatest baseball movies of all time, Bull Durham, when Crash Davis offers Nuke Laloosh advice before heading up to the big leagues, he’s going to get crushed for a while up here. It would be unfair and unwise to expect to see the reincarnation of Cy Young himself take the mound against the Mariners on Tuesday.
There are certain things that pitchers can only learn at the major league level. One of those is how to bounce back after a rough outing. Fans should be looking for things like that instead of immediate statistical results. The time for that will come in 2016 and beyond. But for the rest of 2015, the intangibles are what matter most in Gray’s development.
For the next two months, fans should enjoy watching what should be the next great Rockies pitcher develop his craft before their eyes.
We’ve been clamoring for Jon Gray’s call-up for months and we finally got it. The future of Rockies baseball is bright, ladies and gentlemen. The new era of Rockies baseball is upon us.