Image credit: (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, Ariz.—At 22 years old, Josiah Gray has already made a name for himself on the mound.
He’s the Dodgers No. 6 prospect who was named the club’s minor league pitcher of the year in 2019 and owns a 2.37 ERA in two professional seasons.
Just a few years ago, this rise would have been hard to predict.
“I don’t know how it came to be,” Gray said. “To be minor league pitcher of the year for this organization says a lot to how much they’ve helped me and how much I’ve grown in the last two or three years as being a pitcher. Every day I’m grateful for it.”
After graduating from New Rochelle High School in New York, Gray had just one collegiate offer—a scholarship to Division II LeMoyne College in Syracuse as a two-way player, primarily playing shortstop and occasionally pitching.
In his first collegiate season, in 2016, Gray couldn’t find a groove—at either position.
Though he batted .265, he struggled to produce runs, recording just eight RBIs and zero home runs. On the mound, the woes were more noticeable. He finished the season 0-2, 8.31.
Still, Gray saw more potential on the mound than at the plate. He entered college with a fastball averaging 88 mph, a respectable number for a Division II player, but he realized he could become elite if he upped that number.
“I really just tried to start throwing harder,” Gray said. “Just hitting the weight room and starting to understand my body a little bit, how I do things and how I can improve on things.”
He spent the following summer in the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League, where he posted a 2.75 ERA in 16.1 innings. Gray believes the strong summer campaign helped ignite his future dominance on the mound.
“It gave me a base ground to work from,” Gray said. “I think that helped a lot into making me the pitcher I am today.”
From there, Gray’s momentum carried into the 2017 season, when he became the Dolphins’ full-time closer. He finished the year with 10 saves and a 0.63 ERA.
Even though he succeeded as a closer, Gray still wanted to earn a spot in LeMoyne’s rotation. With the help of his coaches, he got there as a junior.
“It definitely took a lot of build up,” Gray said. “Making me throw bullpens pretty often and keeping me aware of how long the year is and how many innings the team is going to need me to throw for.”
As a junior, Gray finished 11-0, 1.25 in 93.1 innings while striking out 105 hitters. His reward for that dominance was a second-round selection by the Reds in the 2018 draft.
After a year in the Reds’ system, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound righthander was traded to the Dodgers as part of the return for Yasiel Puig.
Gray began his first season with the Dodgers at low Class A Great Lakes, but it didn’t take long before he was promoted to high Class A Rancho Cucamonga.
That wasn’t his only promotion, though. He went 7-0, 2.14 in 12 starts with the Quakes to earn the call to Double-A Tulsa. Gray finished the season 11-2, 2.28 with 147 strikeouts in 130 innings between the three stops.
If his rapid rise in 2019 is any indication, Gray could reach the major leagues before 2020 concludes.
“It’s all contingent on how he performs, but I think that I wouldn’t bet against it,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “He has the desire to get better and continue to develop on spin, but there’s a lot to like.”
The righthander who had just one scholarship offer out of high school is now one of the game’s top pitching prospects. Those humble roots keep him motivated to continue growing.
“That shows me, I’m sure it shows a lot of people, that the sky is the limit,” Gray said. “I’m so fresh into doing this. It’s something I can see myself doing for years and years.”