Rockies take RHP Jonathan Gray with No. 3 pick
DENVER — Jonathan Gray is breathing a little more easily even on the eve of the biggest game of his career.
Being selected by the Colorado Rockies with the No. 3 overall pick on Thursday night took some of the pressure off his hard-throwing right shoulder.
With the Major League Baseball draft now out of the way, the University of Oklahoma pitcher can turn all of his attention toward taking the mound on Friday for an NCAA super regional opener against LSU. Gray has a chance to move the Sooners a step closer to the College World Series.
“I’ve had nothing but love for Colorado,” Gray said in a teleconference on Thursday night. “Tomorrow, I have to go out and try to win a super regional and get to Omaha.”
Gray is having a stellar season with the Sooners, going 10-2 with a 1.59 ERA. His fastball keeps gaining velocity, too, with most reaching the mid- to upper-90s and some hitting 100 mph.
That’s what intrigued the Rockies, who believe his blazing fastball could one day be a good fit at hitter-friendly Coors Field.
“Jonathan has a power arm and he is a great competitor,” said Bill Schmidt, Colorado’s vice president of scouting. “Jonathan is a good kid who we feel he has a chance to be a quality starting major league pitcher.”
This wasn’t Gray’s first foray into the draft. The Shawnee, Okla., native was selected by Kansas City in 2010 (13th round) and the New York Yankees in 2011 (10th round), but wasn’t ready to sign and went to school instead. He attended to Eastern Oklahoma State College in 2011 — going 6-2 with a 2.89 ERA — before transferring to Oklahoma in 2012.
This time around, he was indeed ready.
Well, when the Sooners’ season is over, which, of course, he’s hoping isn’t for quite some time.
“Focused on winning, get us to Omaha,” said Gray, who counts Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan as his favorite pitcher. “We win two more games and we’re there.”
Gray insisted he wasn’t disappointed when Houston took Stanford pitcher Mark Appel with the No. 1 pick, or when the Chicago Cubs selected third baseman Kris Bryant of San Diego at No. 2. Gray had convinced himself he might plummet as far as 10th.
“I kept all possibilities open. I didn’t say I was going to go 1 or 2,” he said. “With me, I have to see something to believe it. I never get my hopes up too high.”
Part of the reason for Gray’s slight dip may have been due to published reports that cited unidentified sources who said he tested positive for the medication Adderall during baseball’s predraft drug testing program. Gray dodged the question when asked about the report.
“I’m not going to talk about that right now,” he said. “There will be a time for that. Right now, I’m just happy to be selected by the Rockies.”
Gray has been mowing down hitters this season, striking out 138 in 119 innings. He thinks his power pitches will someday translate well in the thin air of the Mile High City.
“The more I look at it, the more it seems like I fit in to that kind of environment,” Gray said. “I’m ready for the challenge. I’m ready to see what I can do.”
For his recent increase in velocity, the 6-foot-4, 239-pound Gray credits a change in diet. He’s dropped nearly 30 pounds since high school and the result is that sizzling fastball, which Baseball America called the best in the draft.
“I look completely different than I did a couple years back. It looks like two different guys,” Gray said, laughing. “I never settled for anything. ... I never stopped, never been content. I’ve always worked harder and harder every day. I try to be that much better.”
NOTES: The Rockies selected 3B Ryan McMahon from Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif., in the second round of the draft. He .353 with four home runs and 23 RBIs this season. ... Colorado later took RHP Alex Balog out of the University of San Francisco. He was 3-4 with a 3.63 ERA in 2013.