Colorado Rockies Can (And Should) Wait A Bit On Jon Gray
Mar 1, 2015; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; Colorado Rockies pitcher J. Gray poses for a portrait during photo day at Salt River Fields. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Gray will be up in the big leagues very, very soon, but there’s no rush for the Colorado Rockies to call him up in the next two weeks just because of public sentiment.
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State your unpopular opinion, eh? This is nothing against the folks around the Rockies (like some of our staff here!) who argue it’s time to see Jon Gray in the big leagues, and he is on the fast track to do so at some point this year. Make no mistake about it, he will be a big leaguer before the year is up.
But with the Rockies only in mid-June and already struggling, and Gray doing well but not clearly dominant in AAA Albuquerque, what’s the harm in leaving him in the Pacific Coast League for another few weeks to hone his craft?
I don’t have an airtight argument based on sabermetrics on why Gray should stay in AAA, but more of a feel as I see the Rockies’ year unfolding — is Gray going to come up and be a difference maker to push this team to the playoffs or something? (The answer is obviously no, considering the Rockies won’t come close to the playoffs regardless of how well Gray pitches.)
Could Gray come up to Denver in the next few weeks, get hit hard, and leave the Rockies with a conundrum over whether to send him back down to AAA in July? Sure, anything is possible – and it’s that (pessimistic) option I am more focused on than Gray’s potential success in the big leagues.
It’s not a perfect comparison, but last season the Rockies brought up Eddie Butler after only one AAA start, and he was hit hard in the big leagues, giving up 23 hits and seven walks — against just three strikeouts — in 16 innings before getting injured. Granted, the injury wasn’t serious, but something like that happening to the Rockies again, for the second time in two years, would be a buzzkill. (Though, I know, any hypothetical injury is as likely in AAA as it is in the big leagues, and hypotheticals are dumb things to argue.)
The main concern is potential ineffectiveness. Remember, Jon Gray was dominant all of Spring Training before his final start, angling for a spot in the rotation on Opening Day when the Chicago Cubs rattled him in Phoenix and sent him to AAA (where he then had a terrible month of April before figuring things out on the mound).
Could something similar happen again in the big leagues as he adjusts to Major League hitters after his call-up? Absolutely, and it’s no shade to Gray; adjusting to the big leagues is incredibly difficult for virtually every rookie.
And that’s the crux of my (again, pessimistic) argument on Jon Gray: since the Rockies aren’t going anywhere, anyways, and since they have enough depth (the quality of that depth can be debated) in the rotation between Denver and Albuquerque, why push Gray to Coors Field now, only to risk him struggling by the All-Star Game while looking at ten more weeks in the big leagues ahead of him, or a demotion?
If Gray were outwardly dominating in AAA, it’d be one thing. But he’s not; he’s throwing well, but he’s not a man among boys down there (yet).
With that reality, why not give him a smaller window in which to get his first taste of big league action, and bring him up after the All-Star Game? If he struggles by the middle of August, the Rockies can easily hide him on the big league roster while he works in side sessions and rosters are expanded on September 1.
Again, this isn’t a criticism of Gray; he’s thrown well and he is incredibly good. It’s more a question of the Rockies giving him a realistic shot at big league success during his rookie adjustment period(s) and putting him in the best position to succeed.
Is slotting him in the rotation right now, giving him 15+ starts over the remainder of this year the best move? What if he struggles with that; does sending him back down to Albuquerque affect his psyche?
The Rockies aren’t going anywhere this year; what’s wrong with giving Gray a smaller window (eight starts? Ten?) to audition for a big league job next year, rather than heaping the pressure of the rotation on him right now for a team that’s going to suck down the stretch, anyways?
All that being said, I won’t be mad if the Rockies call up Gray in the next week or two. You can certainly make the case that he’s earned it, and considering what the Rockies expect out of him, hey, he’ll get a shot at Coors Field sometime soon. But all things considered, depending on the Rockies’ plan for him, give Gray another month in Albuquerque before making the move to Denver.