June 6, 2011GUTIERREZ ARCHIVEA's PAGE A's VIDEOPaul Gutierrez
Sure, the A's had been linked with Connecticut outfielder George Springer in mock drafts, ranging from Baseball America to ESPN in recent weeks, days and hours. But Oakland's farm system has a relative lack of depth in pitching, what with so many of the A's pitching prospects already with the big club.So when Springer was drafted No. 11 overall by the Houston Astros and Vanderbilt right-hander Sonny Gray was still there for the taking at No. 18, the choice was obvious.Gray, born 10 days after the A's finished their four-game sweep of the Giants in the 1989 World Series, became Oakland's first-round draft pick in the 2011 first-year player draft."We've gotten to know him personally for a number of years and he just has incredible gumption and fortitude," A's scouting director Eric Kubota said in a conference call with reporters. "He's one of those kids who isn't backing out of any situation. He's not afraid of anything.
"He's going to go out and do everything he can on any given day to get you out."Gray is 11-3 with a 2.01 ERA in 16 starts for the Commodores, whose season continues this weekend in a best-of-three Super Regional against Oregon State. Opponents are also hitting .192 against him in 107 23 innings and he has 115 strikeouts and 39 walks."He's a bulldog-type of guy who was a championship quarterback in high school and has played on the USA national team," said New York Mets scout and CSN Bay Area baseball analyst Shooty Babitt. "He's got a complete mix of 'stuff' with a power fastball. He's a competitor with a good arm who goes out and wins."The stigma is that he's a 5-11 righty."Meaning, many see him as being too short andor slight to be effective over the long term. Some observers, though, think he might remind A's fans of Tim Hudson and Huston Street. Others see him as a Roy Oswalt-type of hurler, what with a low-to-mid 90's fastball that can hit the high 90's on the radar gun. Plus, Baseball America named Gray as having the best secondary pitch in college ball.Coming out of high school in 2008, Gray was drafted in the 27th round by the Chicago Cubs. But he decided to attend and play for Vandy and his stock his risen accordingly.Entering this season, Gray was the fifth-ranked pitcher in college by Baseball America after being second-team all-SEC in 2010 in going 10-5 with a 3.48 ER in 19 outings, 16 starts. He led the Commodores with 113 strikeouts, 108 23 innings pitched and 48 walks as a sophomore. He was also a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American in 2009 after going 5-1 with a 4.30 ERA in 22 appearances."Strength-wise, I think I attack hitters really well," said Gray, who acknowledged his primary concern is pitching for Vanderbilt this weekend rather than negotiating a contract. "I come and try to give you my best stuff and I think having that competitive sprit and that competitive mind serves you well on days you don't have your best stuff."Listed at 5-feet-11, 200 pounds, Gray said he was "6-feet" tall. When pressed, he laughed and said, "5-11-and-a-half."The last college pitcher the A's used a first-round pick on was James Simmons out of UC Riverside in 2007. Simmons is currently on double-A Midland's disabled list with right shoulder impingement syndrome.The A's have also made a habit of drafting college players in the first round. Since 1997, Oakland has drafted only one high school player in the first round - pitcher Jeremy Bonderman in 2001. Eric Chavez was a high school star when the A's selected him with their first pick in 1996.Oakland's last three first-round picks are ranked by Baseball America in their top five prospects - Jemile Weeks (No. 5), Grant Green (No. 1) and Michael Choice (No. 3) - while Cliff Pennington (2005 first-rounder) and Landon Powell (2004 first-rounder as compensation for losing Keith Foulke via free agency) are obviously with the big club. Alas, Oakland's farm system is ranked a lowly 28th among the 30 big league clubs.With just four picks in the first five rounds - Oakland surrendered its second-round pick to Tampa Bay as compensation for signing free-agent reliever Grant Balfour this offseason - the A's are tied for the fewest such picks in that span. Their next pick is in the third round, No. 105 overall, and again at No. 136 overall in the fourth. The A's will then select every 30 picks thereafter.