Long day for Gray

Rockies' top pick makes his way to Grand Junction

Grand Junction Rockies pitcher Jon Gray tosses the ball around at Monday’s practice at Suplizio Field. The Colorado Rockies’ first-round draft pick joined the Major League Baseball organization’s Rookie level squad on Monday.

The Colorado Rockies selected hard-throwing right-handed pitcher Jon Gray with the third overall pick in the Major League Baseball draft.

Jon Gray got off the plane and headed for the ballpark.

A five-hour flight delay in Dallas didn’t allow the Colorado Rockies’ top draft pick to land in Grand Junction until late Monday afternoon. He got to Suplizio Field in time to meet his host family, change into his practice gear and join his new teammates on the field.

“Looonng day,” Gray said after practice. “I’ve been up since 5 (a.m.).”

The third overall pick in the Major League Baseball draft signed with the Rockies last week, only a couple of days after the Oklahoma Sooners were eliminated in the NCAA Super Regionals by LSU.

He spent three days at home with his family before heading to Grand Junction, where he’ll begin his professional career, with a bit of a new look.

His reddish-blond goatee is gone.

“It’s a (club) policy. It was ugly anyway,” Gray said. “I was ready to get rid of it; I looked gross.”

Don’t look for Gray to be on the mound Thursday or Friday when the Rockies open the season at home.

Grand Junction pitching coach Ryan Kibler said it’ll be a couple of weeks before Gray makes his pro debut. After throwing 126 1/3 innings this season for the Sooners, the Rockies won’t rush him.

“The last three games of the year (were) all over 120 pitches every game, with a lot of sliders,” said Gray, who has had the past week off. “It was a good thing to lay off for a while.”

And don’t expect to see Gray throw complete games or come close to 100 pitches a night. It rarely happens in Rookie ball, and the Rockies are going to watch Gray’s workload closely.

“We want to see what the scouts signed,” said Bob Apodaca, Colorado’s assistant pitching coordinator, who has been in town since Saturday getting to know the young Rockies.

“He threw 126 innings; we have to monitor his workload, making sure his workload is correct for the age that he is.

“Still, at the same time, we want to get him out there and be competitive. You’re not going to see him go eight, nine innings, not going to see him throw 100 pitches. It will be teaspoons.”

Apodaca loves the hard-throwing right-hander’s competitiveness.

“He does have all the tools to someday be a Major League pitcher,” he said. “He’s a competitor, those are things we can’t give him. Those are things God gave him, a big heart, work ethic, a competitor on the mound, a leader. We don’t give him those things, he was born with them.

“He’s somebody who has that rare ingredient, and that’s power. There’s no place on earth that doesn’t work, but that works with command, developing the finesse part of the game as well as the power part of it.”

Gray said being far from home for the first time will be an adjustment. He grew up in Chandler, Okla., went to Eastern Oklahoma State for one year, then moved to Norman to play for OU.

“I never went to play summer ball,” Gray said. “I stayed and worked out and helped my family out. It’s definitely a lot different. It’s going to take some getting used to.”

Having his OU teammate, pitcher Billy Waltrip, on Grand Junction’s roster will help immensely.

“It’s gonna be great. That guy’s my brother, he’s a great person to have, a great friend, great teammate,” Gray said. “He’s going to help me settle down and get comfortable in a new environment.”

Gray throws his fastball in the high 90s and will top 100 mph, which will overmatch some Pioneer League hitters. But, Kibler said, he’ll learn to pitch in Rookie ball, especially how to pitch at altitude.

“I’m going to bang away at his fastball and changeup,” Kibler said. “We know he’s got a breaking ball and he’s going to need that changeup in professional baseball.

“It’s effective at Coors Field and it’s effective here. It’s very comparable; this place is an airport and we’ve got to keep the ball out of the air.”

Gray is excited to get started on his career and developing his pitches.

“I want to get my feet wet and pitch some pro innings and get those innings under my belt,” he said.

Being in the Rockies organization, Gray knows someday he could pitch in Tulsa, close to his hometown.

“That would be cool,” he said.

For now, Rookie ball is where he’ll cut his teeth.

“Whenever I’m ready, whether that’s a few weeks or two years, that’s when I move up, whenever I’m ready,” he said.

“There’s no telling when anybody’s going to move up. It’s all about the development. Whenever they’re ready, that’s when they go up. You don’t want to send someone out early if they’re not ready.”

Rockies notes: Grand Junction has an exhibition game at 6 tonight against the Greeley Grays at Suplizio Field.

Zach Jemiola will start the home opener Thursday (7:05 p.m.) against Ogden.

Slowly but surely, the roster is filling up. Only a couple of recent draftees assigned to Grand Junction have not reported, and a few players who will be coming from Class A (short season) Tri-City.

Former CMU outfielder Jeff Popick is on the list to return to shore up the outfield, which has only four players in camp.

Pitcher Jordan Mejia and infielder Zach Osborne are slated to return. Pitcher Peter Tago will make another start for the Dust Devils before reporting to Grand Junction.


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