Gray’s Rotation Transition Progressing Swimmingly

(Photo via the Le Moyne Dolphins website, seen here)

After starring as a reliever in the Cape Cod League in 2017, Josiah Gray entered 2018 poised to front Le Moyne’s weekend rotation. A top 200 overall draft prospect preseason, Gray’s personal stock stood to rise if he proved if he proved he could succeed multiple times through a lineup, to say nothing of the benefit that the Dolphins would get out of the increased volume from the team’s most talented pitcher. It was an open question, though, whether the former infielder would be able to weather the dip in velocity that typically comes from transitioning to lengthier outings. To say that Gray has handled the adjustment well would be an understatement. Averaging over seven innings per start, Gray sports the fourth-lowest ERA in Division II (1.05), with 83 strikeouts against only 17 walks. Given that success, it is unsurprising that Gray’s draft stock is on the rise, as he vaulted into the top 100 prospects on Baseball America’s most recent draft rankings.

For Gray, as with most starting pitchers, navigating through a lineup multiple times required the development of his offspeed pitches. His breaking ball has emerged as a weapon this season. “The slider has made major improvements, like I expected it to,” Gray said last week. “It’s become a plus pitch for me and I know I can throw it in any count, and I have trust in it in any count. It was always OK, but now I think it’s really, really good. It can still get better, but, where I’m at right now with it, I’m really happy with that.”

His changeup, while generally improved, remains more of a work in progress. “It’s still tough here and there, but I’m throwing it for a strike all the time,” Gray noted. “I’m not getting too much fade on it, but I think that just comes with time as I keep on throwing it.” Given that his experience with the changeup is still in its early stages, there is reason for optimism with its development. “Just as I’ve seen progression with my slider, I think I can get progression with my changeup. Just keep throwing it in games and bullpen (sessions) and stuff and you’ll see the depth come…. I want to be able to get a few more inches of fade on it and make that a plus pitch as well.”

Despite his changeup’s inconsistency, Gray has found marvelous results, particularly as the season has progressed and he’s become more adept at working deep in games. In each of his past three outings, Gray has tossed eight innings, surrendering a combined three runs (all of which were unearned). Key to this success- and to his professional prospects- has been his ability to maintain his fastball velocity deeper into his starts. “Early on this season, I was going into the 7th or the 8th and I’d be throwing 90-92 (MPH),” Gray said, echoing the concerns he and his coaches had expressed preseason, “but actually, in my most recent start, I was up to 96 in the 8th inning.”

Perhaps Gray’s single best performance of the season, though, came back in March in the Dolphins’ conference opener. He tossed a complete game shutout in a 5-0 win over St. Michael’s, striking out nine while allowing only four baserunners, in a game that took under two hours to complete. There’s a reason for the game’s brevity; Gray required only 88 pitches. “That’s one of my biggest accomplishments for the year. They weren’t the greatest team, but to be able to command the strike zone, get early outs, get a ton of strikeouts, it felt good,” Gray recalled. He has adopted the starter’s mentality of trying to work deep into games in every outing. “Being a starting pitcher now, I can understand the feeling of getting a complete game. It’s an unreal feeling that can’t be replicated, and everyone wants that as a starting pitcher, and I see that now with myself. So, I want that every time I’m out there, for sure.”

Pitching efficiently is a must if Gray is to absorb as many innings as he would like. He is acutely aware of his performance, citing a handful of his statistics from memory. Given his status as one of college baseball’s most dominant pitchers, there would be numerous positives for him to point to. Yet one metric he singles out with some frustration. “I wish I didn’t walk as many people,” he replied when asked to assess his season as a whole. Even though he’s walked fewer than two batters per innings? “I know it’s nitpicking,” he acknowledged, “but I pride myself on throwing strikes, not walking guys, making them prove they can hit (me). It’s just part of the game, it’s something I’ll live with, but it’s definitely something I’ll work on and am frustrated with, because they didn’t really show they can hit me. I gave them a free pass.”

That confidence in his stuff undoubtedly appeals to professional scouts, who have made a habit of frequenting Le Moyne’s Friday games in anticipation of next month’s draft. While there are some familiar faces in the stands, Gray’s interaction with scouts has remained limited. “They’re allowing me to go out there and pitch,” he said. “When the time comes, they’ll all reach out. I’m excited for that to happen next month, but also excited to keep the run going. We’ve got a great year going.” As Gray notes, not only has he had individual success, but the team is riding high entering postseason play. At 32-13-1, Le Moyne ranks 15th in the NCBWA Division II rankings and they enter the Northeast 10 conference tournament as the regular-season division champions, marking their best season since 2012, the last time they advanced to the NCAA tournament. That they are led by a pitcher whose only scholarship offer out of high school was to join them as a backup shortstop makes it that much sweeter. “In recruiting me, my coach didn’t think I’d be the ace,” Gray noted. “No one ever knew I’d be the ace come 2018…. (Now), we cracked the top 10 in the national rankings. I’m very happy to be a part of that.”

With the draft upcoming, Gray will not be a part of the program much longer. Continuing the progression of his offspeed pitches should continue to be focus under a professional player development program, since the ease with which he transitioned to the rotation in 2018 has left no doubt that he will be groomed as a starting pitching prospect at the next level. Even as he gets closer to becoming the Dolphins’ highest draft choice in nearly 30 years, Gray remains focused on the immediate task ahead, beginning Tuesday when Le Moyne faces Pace to kick off the NE10 tournament. “I just want to enjoy the ride, let all that stuff happen next month, and then see what the future holds.”

Editor’s Note: Gray started the first game of Le Moyne’s conference tournament on Tuesday, May 9, pitching seven innings of five-hit, three-run baseball, to go with 13 strikeouts and only one walk.

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