Athletics Bank On Competitiveness Of Top Pick Gray

OAKLAND—Any scouting report on Sonny Gray is certain to include one word: competitiveness. The righthander has been deemed a warrior on the mound with an intense desire to achieve.

"He is an incredible, incredible competitor," scouting director Eric Kubota said moments after the Athletics made Gray their first-round selection at No. 18 overall.

He went 11-3, 2.01 this year for Vanderbilt, with the Commodores bound for a Super Regionals showdown this weekend with Oregon State. He was trying hard to keep his attention focused on the upcoming series, though he said via Twitter earlier on draft day that he "feels like a walking zombie."

"The nerves and everything calmed down," Gray said during a conference call with San Francisco Bay Area reporters. "It was such a rush with your name being called. Then you get a little energy boost."

Gray has spent most of his life as a high-energy performer, from the baseball field to singing lead in high school musicals. He is competitive at just about everything he does. "I think I attack really well. I have that competitive spirit and that competitive mind," he said. And he gives the credit to his father Jesse Gray, a former pitcher for Austin Peay University.

"My dad was my coach for a long time," Gray said. "I played to win. From the time I was maybe 4 to 12, we had a good team and got used to winning. That's where the competitiveness comes from. My dad talked me through it."

But tragedy struck shortly before Gray's freshman season began at Smyrna (Tenn.) High. Jesse was killed in an auto accident, and Sonny (his real name) had to carry forth with the lessons his father taught him in his youth.

He did well, boosting Smyrna to the state championship as a quarterback in football and drawing the attention of baseball scouts. He went to the Cubs in the 26th round in 2008, but that happened after he broke his ankle and had already committed to Vanderbilt.

"He's a guy we've seen for a number of years," Kubota said. "He was high profile in high school, and we followed him since then."

Gray excelled at Vandy. He started his freshman year as the closer, then moved into the rotation and finished 5-1, 4.30. Then he went 10-5, 3.48 as a sophomore. With the change to composite bats this year, he became even more dominant.

Kubota says Gray throws a fastball from 92-96 mph with sinking and running action. He also has a hard breaking ball.

Gray has been working to develop his changeup, and how that works will be a key to his development. Some scouts believe he might be best-suited for the bullpen. When asked if the A's planned to keep him as a starter, Kubota responded forcefully: "Yes, definitely."

One question is his size. The Vandy press guide lists Gray as 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, but he says he's closer to 6-feet, 200 pounds.

"Some kids are just a different size," Kubota said. "This kid's no smaller than Tim Hudson, Pedro Martinez or Greg Maddux. We certainly don't consider his size a hindrance."

As for Gray, with his rich Tennessee accent, he sounds delighted with a prospective move West. "My mother's already Googled Oakland, and she can't wait to get out and see the place," he said.