A's Pitching History Excites 1st Rounder Gray

On Saturday, Sonny Gray will take the hill for the Vanderbilt Commodores in their first College World Series game. Later this year, the Oakland A's are hopeful that he will be suiting up for one of their minor league affiliates after they took him with the 18th overall pick in the 2011 MLB draft. John Anderson spoke with the hard-throwing right-hander for an in-depth Q&A...

John Anderson: Hey Sonny, how are you?

Sonny Gray: I'm doing great, thanks.

JA: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me.

SG: Not a problem.

JA: Tell me a bit about how draft day went for you.

SG: I was at home [Smyrna, Tennessee] with my family and a few friends and we were hanging out for the day waiting for it to happen. Then I heard them call my name at 18 and everyone got excited and celebrated. I talked to the area [scout] and he is from Tennessee and then a bit after a did a conference call and spoke with the scouting director and he congratulated me and then I did a media thing and that's how it went.

JA: I know the A's were excited about you being there at 18.

SG: Yeah they said they were.

JA: Talk a bit about this weekend and Oregon State. [note: this interview was conducted before the Commodores defeated Oregon State to qualify for the College World Series.]

SG: We have a big challenge ahead of us. They are a good team and will be tough but we feel we are ready as a team.

JA: This is big for you guys. You've been close the last couple years and had 12 players drafted this year so it would be a big step for Vandy to make the World Series.

SG: Yeah it would be. We have a very, very talented team and we've known that. We have done all the work and been focused and now that the draft has taken place and all the guys have been drafted it's great for our program and I'm really happy for all the guys but at the same time we have something else to take care of before we get into our own stuff as players and that's getting to the World Series.

JA: Let's talk about you and your style and approach to pitching.

SG: I throw a fastball in the low to mid 90s, about 92-95, and if I need to I can get it up to 96-97 MPH. I try to attack hitters early and often. I go right after them and throw my best stuff at them and see how it plays out. That's been my approach for a long time and it's the approach I'll continue to go with. I also throw a changeup and a curveball.

JA: Scouts I've spoken to say your curve is a real hammer pitch and that your changeup has been great this year.

SG: Yeah the change has come a long way. I actually have had a good change for a while and for about the year and a half while at Vandy it was more of not knowing when to throw it and not trusting it. That was the main thing. Not trusting it. But I made the decision this fall that I had to trust it and use it as another weapon. Once I started trusting it it improved dramatically. Just trusting what your gonna throw is so important and it works.

JA: So true. Anyone watching you throw can see your pure stuff, but scouts and other coaches always talk about your competitiveness as well. Talk about that if you would.

SG: I just love competing. That's all we did at our house when I was growing up. I have an older sister and a younger sister and we competed at everything. I was thinking this morning of how we would sit at the dinner table and compete to see who could eat their corn on the cob the fastest. So my sisters and I would compete and I'd compete with my dad and it was all about winning and that sticks with you and it's something you love to do. It's how I am on a regular basis and I want to win at everything.

JA: I know your dad passed away when you were young and you pay tribute to him on the mound.

SG: Yeah I have his initials on my hat and on my glove.

JA: That's great. Have you had a chance to think about the pros and whether you will be a starter or reliever? I know you consider yourself a starter and the A's have said the same. I'm sure you've not had the chance to talk to the organization about your role but what are your thoughts?

SG: Well I was so excited when I saw it was the Oakland Athletics that drafted me. I know the history of pitchers that they have there and how they develop pitchers and that got me really excited. I've been a starter my whole life though I actually closed a couple times my freshman year here at Vandy. Closing was fun and entertaining and I enjoyed doing it but I want to and like to start games. I like taking the ball and throwing that first pitch of the game. But if they A's look at me down the road and say they want me relieving or closing than I would be open to it and there would be no second guessing here. I'd do whatever they needed whatever is best for the organization.

JA: How about the height question? Scouts and commentators have said with your stuff, if you were 6'3'' you would have been the first or second pick in the draft. Are you tired of the height question and I'm sorry I brought it up.

SG: No worries about the question and it's a good one. I've been getting the question for a while now. When I was going to college people brought up that I was 5'11'' and so I've heard it. I think it's funny when I hear people say that if I was 6'3'' I'd be a top 5 pick. I've been hearing that for a year now and I just laugh. It's funny. It doesn't bother me and I'm used to it. I just go out there and compete and height or being shorter doesn't mean anything.

JA: Exactly. When you think of the next level, do you think of things you need to work on? You have ex-teammates like David Price and Mike Minor in the bigs, do you speak with them about the transition from college to the pros?

SG: Absolutely I do. Something I need to work on is my command. It is something a pitcher always needs to work on. It's a lot better for me from year to year but as a pitcher it is something you can always improve and work on. Price and Minor have said it is something that they always work on. You can also work on not always going for a strikeout but working to get a ground ball when you need a double play and stuff like that. Also, I think it is important to learn about the hitters and being able to learn on the fly and adjust within the game.

JA: What motivates you? Can you look ahead or is winning the World Series right now your motivation and focus?

SG: Yeah right now I am not looking too far ahead. As a team all year we have just looked to the next game so that is what I am doing right now as are all the 11 guys drafted. If you ask me once the season is over I'll have a different answer but Vandy baseball winning is the focus now.

JA: Sure and that is how it should be. Are you in touch with some of your Team USA teammates and have you spoken with them since the draft?

SG: Yes, Gerrit Cole called me right after I was drafted by the Athletics. He was the first person to call after I got off the phone with the A's. We had and continue to have a close relationship. That whole team was pretty close and I've heard from a lot of them. A lot of the guys were drafted and I was happy for them so it was an exciting time for everyone. For the first 17 picks you're seeing guys you played with and are friends with getting picked and you're happy for them, but at the same time you're waiting for your name and turn. So it was good.

JA: That's great. So have you heard from the A's since draft day?

SG: Yes, I've heard from the area scout and we said we would not have much communication until the Vandy season is over and that is how I'd like to have it. That shows how great their organization is in that they are not trying to interfere with what we have going now.

JA: Sure, that is how it should be and you can focus on Vandy winning the World Series. I'll let you go but to end I wanted to talk about Twitter. You are active on Twitter and two A's pitchers, Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson, are both active and getting some notoriety for their Tweets. Do you follow them now and have you heard from them?

SG: Yeah they did contact and said "Congratulations" which I thought awesome. So yeah they congratulated me and then said they hoped I didn't get more followers on Twitter than them which I thought was really funny. It was awesome that they contacted me and I thought it was really neat of them to do that.

JA: Very funny. I'll let you go. Congratulations on the draft and good luck for the rest of the season.

SG: Thanks. I appreciate it.

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