Jon Gray: It’s time to pump the brakes


There were calls for top Colorado Rockies’ pitching prospect Jon Gray to be in the big leagues this season. In reality, the Rockies might be wise to wait until 2016 to have him in the big leagues.

There were grumblings, from this author included, that Gray might finally be the Rockies’ prospect who is truly an ace, who truly has the goods to be one of the best young pitchers in all of baseball. In reality, he might just be a really solid, no. 3 starter.

It is both of those regards that we all need to take a breath and pump the brakes on expectations for Gray.

1. No Need to Rush

It is worth noting that Gray is still only 22 years old. The Rockies can slow down his pace to the big leagues and still have him arrive in a Rockies uniform at a young age. The organization needs to show restraint before throwing Gray into the big leagues, even more so because the young righty is dealing with shoulder fatigue.

Appropriately, the Rockies shut him down for the season last week. Here is what Gray had to say about that decision (from the Denver Post):

"“I do have some shoulder fatigue, but I knew it wouldn’t feel as strong now as it did back in spring training. I knew it would kind of wear down a little. But after having a few days off, it feels really good again. I’m still throwing some bullpens…“It was a long season, kind of longer than I expected. I faced some problems this year, but I needed to learn some things about myself as a pitcher. I did find out that the guys are a lot better hitters at this level.”"

Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

The Rockies insist this decision is just a precaution; that’s fine, but the takeaway for the rest of us should be that Gray won’t have a meaningful role with the big league club until 2016. And that’s OK.

2. Temper Expectations

I will only speak for myself here, though I hardly think I am alone when I say that I had unreasonably high expectations for Jon Gray. That might have been because the Rockies drafted him so high, or because he actually received some national coverage from baseball writers, or maybe just because it sounded like he was going to be so darned good.

I would think to myself: “Here’s the guy. Here’s the guy who can take the league by storm right away. Finally the Rockies are going to have that guy who dominates right away.” 

Gray’s results this season in Double-A have brought expectations back to earth, as some observations from scouts. Kiley McDaniel of FanGraphs addressed the latter in a recent rundown of the Rockies’ farm system:

"Scouts are a little concerned that Gray is a below average athlete and the command still isn’t quite there yet. Since the stuff is so good, that lesser command would just make him a 3/4 starter rather than a 2/3.Summation: I’m splitting the difference on #2 and #4 starter reports from scouts, basically sticking with my pre-draft evaluation. If you’re a Rockies fan disappointed by the #3 starter projection, one year of that is worth at least 3 times his signing bonus on the open market, so that would still be a wild success."

Maybe Gray will grow into being a legit big league ace, but this all serves as a good reminder: there are only a handful of aces in all of baseball, and not each team is entitled to having one.

In the meantime, teams have to be realistic and understand that they have been successful if they draft and develop competent starting pitchers for the middle of their rotation. That is something to remember with Tyler Matzek, and it will certainly be something to remember with Gray, Eddie Butler, and others.

There is still plenty of reason to be excited about Gray because he has a high ceiling; he still stands out as one of the best pitching prospects in franchise history. But if you’re like me, it’s time to pump the brakes on expectations about him developing into an ace or being the one to save the Rockies’ rotation.

Let’s just take a step back, give the guy time to develop, understand it might not be time for his call-up until the end of 2015 or the beginning of 2016, and be happy that he looks like a good big league pitcher in the making.