Notes on Sonny Gray, Nick Senzel, Dakota Hudson and Ryan Weathers:
When Sonny Gray takes the mound in Cincinnati for the first time as a Red, it won’t be the first time he has pitched at Great American Ball Park.
Gray’s first appearance at the park was actually when he was introduced as an American League All-Star at the All-Star Game in 2015, but he did not play that night. Gray did pitch as a member of the Oakland Athletics at GABP on June 10, 2016. He took the loss in a 2-1 game, seeing his record at the time fall to 3-6.
But if anyone has been wondering if Gray can hit, now that he is in the National League, here is what is known. Gray is 1-for-12 in his career as a hitter. His first and only major league hit came as an Athletic at Dodger Stadium in 2015 off Pedro Baez, an opposite-field liner down the right field line. Gray made the turn at first, but the ball was fielded well by a man who is now his teammate, Yasiel Puig, in right field.
Gray’s night’s work against the Reds in 2016 included an 0-for-2 night at the plate but it did include a sacrifice bunt, moving teammate Max Muncy, a former Nashville Sound, to second base. Gray also grounded out and struck out swinging…
… Shortly after Gray was dealt to the Reds, Mo Egger of 1530 ESPN in Cincinnati interviewed Derek Johnson, the Reds’ new pitching coach, who worked with Gray at Vanderbilt, where Johnson was pitching coach from 2002-2012. Johnson knows Gray well, although it has been a few years since they worked together at Vandy, where Gray played from 2009-2011.
Egger asked Johnson what people are likely to see from Gray.
“You’re going to see a guy with a really nice array of pitches,” Johnson said. “He’s a stuff pitcher. He’s got a lot of movement on his ball. His ball will kind of do different things.”
He talked about Gray’s breaking ball, and the grip.
“His breaking ball has been his bread and butter,” Johnson said. “It’s like the kid was born to throw it, and I say that from the standpoint of he’s got a very unique grip in the way he holds the ball. It’s unique to him. It’s something he had when he was a younger guy, 14 or 15 years old. Coming into Vanderbilt, one of the first things he said to me was, ‘You don’t like that grip, do you?’
“I said, ‘Well, it works pretty good and you spin it pretty good. So I’m not going to mess with it at this point, and I never did. It was a pitch I felt like he really owned. He’s got a good curveball. He throws a slider as well.”
Gray struggled at times as a New York Yankee last season, so much so the Yankees traded him. So how would Johnson approach that?
“The main thing I want is for him to get comfortable again, being who he is, doing what he does,” Johnson said. “I think you’re going to see a stuff guy with a lot of movement, a little bit of moxie on the mound, too. The kid, when he’s right, he’s really confident, and it shows.”
Gray was interviewed on the MLB Network shortly after the trade and was asked if his relationship with Johnson had anything to do with him accepting the deal, which included the stipulation that Gray agree to a contract extension with the Reds, which he did.
“It definitely factored in, for sure,” Gray said. “We’ve got such a good relationship.
“I won’t say it was the sole reason for all this happening, but it definitely played a factor in it, for sure.” …
… It has become common when clubs have a real phenom in their minor league system to hold him back at the beginning of the season and put him in the minor leagues, solely for the purpose of avoiding playing him so many games it crosses a threshold and the team loses a year of service from the player before free agency.
But in a recent account by Nick Dykstra on milb.com, the projection was that the Reds would call up former University of Tennessee player Nick Senzel in March, not April or May like other top prospects. That means he would be on the team on Opening Day. If a player remains under 172 days of service, this season won’t count as a full year. The top prospect, Vladimir Guererro Jr., is expected to begin the season in Class AAA Buffalo for that very reason. Guerrero will likely be in Toronto sometime in April.
The issue for the Reds is the need for a center fielder from the start, and Senzel, who came up as a third baseman, has been playing center field this spring. The projection is that the Reds can’t afford to do without Senzel early in the season just to prevent him from reaching free agency sooner. It’s another sign that the Reds want to win now, not waste too much time developing players. …
… The guys at the Cardinals’ podcast Countdown to Opening Day, Mike Claiborne, Chris Hrabe and Tom Ackerman, say given the current injury to pitcher Carlos Martinez, Dakota Hudson has the inside track to join the starting rotation at the beginning of the season.
Hudson pitched at Sequatchie County High School. He played collegiately at Mississippi State and was drafted by the Cardinals in the first round in 2016. Hudson was 13-3 with the Memphis Redbirds last year as a starter and built a 4-1 record last year in St. Louis as a reliever.
Martinez, also a former Memphis Redbird, is suffering from shoulder problems. …
… When experts talk about the load of talent in the pipeline for the San Diego Padres, one of the players they’re talking about is Ryan Weathers, who played at Loretto High School and was drafted in the first round last year.
Weathers, a left-handed pitcher, is the son of former big-league pitcher David Weathers. His mother, Kelli, was an All-American basketball player at Belmont. His sister, Karly, starred for a 33-2 Loretto basketball team as a freshman this season, making it to the state tournament finals before falling to Gibson County in the Class A final game. She was named tournament MVP.
Ryan Weathers is ranked the 10th best prospect in the Padres’ system by mlb.com. He was the seventh overall pick last year and signed for $5.2 million.
Baseball America ranks him as the team’s 13th best prospect. Its scouting report on Weathers points to his mound presence.
“Weathers impresses more with his poise and feel than any one offering,” Baseball America says.
“Weathers works quickly, throws strikes with above average control and stays poised when things don’t go his way, showing impressive maturity for a teen.”
Weathers is 19.
Milb.com, ranking the Padres’ pitching prospects No. 2 overall as a group behind the Braves, says Weathers “will have high expectations in his first full season.”