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The Red Report 2019 - Sonny Gray

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New Red, new extension, new top of the rotation starter.

MLB: Cincinnati Reds-Media Day Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Fast Facts

  • Name is an oxymoron.
  • Sonny isn’t short for anything - his real name is Sonny Douglas Gray.
  • Was teammates with catcher Curt Casali at Vanderbilt University, where current Cincinnati Reds pitching coach Derek Johnson was then Vandy’s pitching coach.
  • Born in Smyrna, Tennessee, which also produced MLB all-time name team member Johnny Gooch.
  • Finished 3rd in the 2015 AL Cy Young Award voting.

Organizational History

  • Drafted in the 27th round of the 2008 MLB Draft by the Chicago Cubs out of Smyrna (TN) HS, but did not sign
  • Drafted in the 1st round (18th overall) of the 2011 MLB Draft by the Oakland Athletics out of Vanderbilt University, signed $1.54 million bonus
  • Traded by the Oakland Athletics with international bonus slot money to the New York Yankees for James Kaprelian, Jorge Mateo, and Dustin Fowler on July 31, 2017
  • Traded by the New York Yankees to the Cincinnati Reds along with Reiver Sanmartin for Shed Long and a 2019 Competitive Bonus Round A pick

Career Stats

Scouting Report (Based on 2018 pitches)

Sonny Gif

Projections

FanGraphs

Outlook

For most of the winter, there was an intense clamor among Reds fans for the front office to go get a pitcher with a career 3.66 ERA, career 3.72 FIP, and career 108 ERA+. That pitcher, Dallas Keuchel, is currently 31 years old, and was predicted to land a 4 year, $82 million deal by MLB Trade Rumors at the outset of free agency.

Instead, the Reds went and landed a pitcher with a career 3.66 ERA, career 3.74 FIP, and career 110 ERA+ named Sonny Gray, who also just so happens to be just 29 years of age. Then, they inked him to what could amount to a 5 year, $50 million extension (should they pick up the $12 million option for 2023) after picking him up at the cost of Shed Long and a Competitive Balance round draft pick.

Gray’s story has been around the Red Reporter water bucket all winter. Back when he was merely a trade target, we looked at how his drastically reduced fastball usage after being acquired by the Yankees from Oakland might well be behind some of the struggles he had in New York that he hadn’t really experienced in any other healthy season in his career. Later, we dove into the monumentally different home/road splits he posted in an odd 2018 season, one that saw him pitch like a legitimate ace away from Yankee Stadium while looking like, well, a 2015-2018 Cincinnati Reds pitcher inside his then home.

The simple facts, though, are these: Sonny Gray was once a budding ace, saw his fortunes dip while with the Yankees, and still possesses enough talent to again top a legitimate starting rotation. The key for the Reds will be to figure out how to eliminate the issues he faced as a Yankee in Yankee Stadium and accentuate the positives he unleashed elsewhere for the bulk of his career, and their hopes are that some familiar surroundings help that happen as soon as 2019.

Derek Johnson and Curt Casali, as previously mentioned, are again his pitching coach and catcher, respectively, and he’s known that pair for over a decade. Similarly, his former Vandy pitching peer Caleb Cotham is now the Reds assistant pitching coach, adding another familiar face to Gray’s surroundings at his new club - which he has gone on record as saying was the favorite of his father while growing up in Tennessee. Feel good about this feel-good story yet?

I hope so, because here’s where we mention that he’s already been scratched from a Cactus League start with ‘elbow stiffness,’ and that’s pushed the timetable back for his debut into nebulous territory. He has reportedly thrown on the side since then and the initial diagnosis does not appear to be serious, but this is a story we’ve watched unfold as Cincinnati Reds fans time and time again with pitchers in recent years, and it’s just not a fun way to start any season with any arm, much less the most prized one acquired this winter after five years of pitching destitution.

It’s likely, though, that Gray will be fine, and will be so soon enough to jump to the top of the revamped Reds rotation alongside the likes of Alex Wood, Tanner Roark, Luis Castillo, and Anthony DeSclafani. In many ways, that’s the ideal way to come to a new team - as one of many reinforcements, not as the lone rider tasked with single-handedly vanquishing the ills. Wood and Roark will help shoulder that load, as will a finally healthy Disco, which might even provide peripheral benefit to the burgeoning star that is Castillo, and heck, that could combine to be some Captain Planet type mutual improvement.

30 starts from Gray with an ERA that starts with a 3 would be ideal, with a return to his fastball-heavy ways and a proclivity to induce grounders instead of fly balls. That’s both not at all out of the question and the definition of what a top-of-rotation pitcher should probably look like with a home park like GABP, and in Gray it’s obvious the Reds feel they have found a guy capable of providing that now, and in the future.

My fingers are certainly crossed.