After six months of work, Jeff Gray is finally close to where he wants to be with his mechanics. The hard-throwing right-hander was asked to remake portions of his throwing motion at the conclusion of the 2008 regular season, a regular season that saw him make his major league debut with the Oakland A's. Gray worked closely throughout the fall with A's bullpen coach Ron Romanick on mechanical tweaks that Romanick felt would give Gray better command of his plus stuff.
The new mechanics helped Gray put together an impressive showing for the Phoenix Desert Dogs during the Arizona Fall League. In eight outings, Gray allowed two earned runs in 11 innings and posted a 1.09 WHIP. Gray carried that momentum over into big league camp with the A's, where he allowed one run in 4.2 innings spread over four appearances.
Gray was a surprise early cut from A's big league camp. Games had not yet started in minor league camp when Gray reported to Papago and it was a few days before he was back on the mound throwing in a competitive environment. With the break and the separation from Romanick—who continued to work with Gray during big league spring training—Gray found himself having to struggle to regain his form.
"When I left big league camp, I was right on. I kind of got lost a little bit on my mechanics, the new stuff, [in minor league spring training]. Right now, I'm settling back into where I was and am getting locked back in and ready to go," Gray said.
"The new motion is pretty close to muscle memory now. I'm getting there. It's just more along the lines of trusting it, more than anything. It's there and I've talked to a lot of guys and they've said that it is right where it needs to be, but it's just a matter of me trusting it."
Over the season's first four games, Gray has already made two appearances for the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats. He is 0-1 with a save and one earned run allowed in 2.2 innings. Gray has been a workhorse for Sacramento in each of the past two seasons, appearing in 54 games for the River Cats in 2008 and 2007.
Gray and shortstop Gregorio Petit are the only two current River Cats' players to earn PCL championship rings with Sacramento in each of the last two seasons. Gray has also won two rings in the Arizona Fall League with the Phoenix Desert Dogs the past two seasons. He hopes the winning trend continues.
"Let's just keep adding to it. It's always wonderful to win a ring. A lot of guys don't even get one, so the pleasure of having more than that is just great," Gray said.
Of the River Cats' current active roster, 16 of the 24 players have major league experience (it will be 17 when Curtis Thigpen is activated off of the DL), including Gray, who appeared in five games with the A's last September. The roster also features a number of young, up-and-coming prospects who are on the verge of making their major league debuts, including Vince Mazzaro, Ryan Webb, James Simmons and Sean Doolittle. Gray has enjoyed the blend of veteran experience and youth in the early going this season.
"It's more of a big league clubhouse this year. A lot of the infielders have been up there [in the big leagues], but at the same time, we have a lot of young pitching prospects who are really, really good. That mixture will turn out for the best for them, and they are going to learn a lot. It's cool because it definitely feels like a big league clubhouse," Gray said.
Baisley Determined To Quiet Doubters
Third baseman Jeff Baisley made his season debut for Sacramento on Sunday. The South Florida alum had been back home in the Sunshine State since last week, when he was designated for assignment. Baisley was informed that he had cleared waivers and was being assigned to Triple-A Sacramento on Friday and he arrived in the Capitol City on Saturday.
Baisley's demotion off of the A's 40-man roster was a direct result of the team's off-season infield acquisitions at the big league level, specifically shortstop Orlando Cabrera and third-baseman/first-baseman Nomar Garciaparra. A 12th-round draft choice of the A's in 2005, Baisley worked his way up the A's system quickly and was in the big leagues by September of last season. He hit .256 in 14 games for Oakland last year after hitting .298 with nine homers in 299 at-bats for Sacramento.
Baisley is determined to show the baseball world that he is capable of getting back to the major leagues.
"I got designated, so I want to come out and play well and, I guess, make them think that they made a mistake. I am playing for everybody else now," Baisley said.
Throughout his professional career, Baisley has been strictly a third-baseman, but he was asked to play some first base during the Arizona Fall League in October 2007. That experience came in handy for Baisley during his big league call-up, when he appeared in a handful of games at first base. The River Cats have a crowded infield depth chart, with all six infielders having major league experience (Baisley, Daric Barton, Jack Hannahan, Eric Patterson, Cliff Pennington and Gregorio Petit) and all are capable of playing third base. Given the crowded nature of the roster, it seems likely that Baisley will see some time at first again this season. Although he didn't see time there this spring, he is prepared to play first if need be.
"It's a possibility to move around a bit. I didn't play first base here last year, but DH, third base, first base, it doesn't really matter to me as long as I am getting at-bats," Baisley said.
"I know I can play first if they need me to."
Alumni News and Notes
A number of former River Cats have landed with new teams over the past few months. Second baseman Kevin Melillo, who was a member of the River Cats in 2007 and the first half of 2008, is currently playing for the Huntsville Stars, a Double-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. Melillo, who hit 14 homeruns last season between Triple-A Sacramento and Syracuse, was cut by the Toronto Blue Jays late in spring training and signed with Milwaukee as a free agent. He is six-for-his-first 16 with three doubles and three RBIs for his new club.
Infielder Brooks Conrad, who made his big league debut with the A's last season, has latched on with the Atlanta Braves organization. The switch-hitting Conrad led the River Cats with 28 homers last season. He also drove-in 91 runs. Conrad is currently playing with the Triple-A Gwinnett Braves, where he is batting .294 with two homers in only four games.
Right-hander Brad Knox, who was a minor league free agent this off-season, parlayed a strong showing in the Mexican Winter League into a contract with the Los Angeles Angels just before the start of spring training. Knox, who spent seven years in the A's organization, made his debut with Triple-A Salt Lake on Friday. He allowed one run in 1.1 innings of relief work. Knox won seven games for Sacramento last season and was an integral part of both of the River Cats' title teams in 2007 and 2008.
Outfielder/first-baseman Brian Stavisky signed a free agent deal with his hometown Philadelphia Phillies over the off-season. Stavisky, a 2002 sixth-round pick by the A's and the Cal League MVP in 2004, was released by Oakland last spring. He spent some time in the independent leagues before signing with the Angels, where he spent the last several months of the season. In 86 games for the Angels' Double-A affiliate last year, Stavisky hit .312 with 16 homers. He is currently playing for Double-A Reading and he has five hits in 12 at-bats to start the year.
First-baseman Wes Bankston, like Conrad, made his big league debut with the A's last season, but was allowed to leave the team via minor league free agency in the off-season. Bankston signed a minor league deal with the Cincinnati Reds and was invited to big league camp. He is currently playing for the Triple-A Louisville Sluggers, where he is two-for-six with a homer to start the year.
Infielder Justin Sellers, who never played for the River Cats, but was in the A's system from 2005-2008, has been traded for a second time this spring. Sellers was first dealt along with Richie Robnett to the Chicago Cubs for reliever Michael Wuertz. Sellers was dealt later in the spring for a player to be named later to the Los Angeles Dodgers. He is currently competing for the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts. Sellers spent all of last season with the Double-A Midland Rockhounds.
Sacramento Notes: Gray Getting Back In Groove
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