Le Moyne's Josiah Gray's Mound Move Is Paying Off
Josiah “Jo Jo” Gray has always believed he had a future in baseball.
Even when recruiters didn’t call. Even when he was just a skinny high school shortstop with a decent arm and not a whole lot of pop, Gray was convinced he’d keep playing. Keep working. Keep grinding. Keep the dream alive.
What he didn’t see was where the dream would take him. Instead of making the play deep in the hole at shortstop, he finds himself standing on the mound in front of a small army of radar guns behind home plate.
“I knew there would be a chance. I was going to find a way. It’s being confident and believing in myself. Everyone had professional baseball aspirations. My timeline was just a little later than for other people,” Gray said. “It was just sticking with it.”
Division II Le Moyne (N.Y.) was the only school that offered Gray a scholarship. Coach Scott Cassidy and his staff liked Gray’s athleticism and how easy his arm worked at shortstop.As a freshman, Gray played sporadically in the field and also got onto the mound for a few ineffective outings (and a 10.24 ERA).
But something was brewing. He was starting to fill out. When he went to play in the Hamptons League that summer, Gray’s 85-87 mph fastball all of a sudden found another gear.
"The first outing in the Hamptons, I don’t know how hard I was throwing, but the ball was coming out of my hand so well. I started thinking, 'we’ve got something here,'" Gray said.
At the league’s all-star game, Gray touched 94 mph. As a sophomore at Le Moyne, Gray was a light-hitting everyday shortstop, but he also posted a 0.63 ERA with 10 saves in 14 appearances as a closer. The word started to get out that the Dolphins had a live-armed, if somewhat raw, pitcher with plenty of potential.
Division II players don’t get to play in the Cape Cod League very often, but Gray’s arm was enough to get him a temporary contract. That was upgraded to a full-season agreement before he ever arrived after scouts called on his behalf to lobby. He struck out 21 in 13 innings out of the Chatham Anglers bullpen and was the league's 30th ranked prospect.
Gray has bulked up since he arrived in college as a 170-pound freshman. He is now listed at 6-foot, 205 pounds, having transformed from a skinny kid to a maturing adult. His mechanics are better and his secondary stuff has developed. With 15 or so scouts at Gray’s first start, his days of going unnoticed are long gone. And so are his days of playing shortstop. Gray is focused on pitching now. Until this year, he was a shortstop/closer, but now he’s going to try to be Le Moyne’s ace.
There’s a practical reason for that. When Le Moyne coach Scott Cassidy started sketching out the plans for the 2018 season, he wanted to make sure Gray was seen by scouts. It's hard for scouts to see Division II relievers. It's much easier for them to schedule to check in on a starting pitcher.
“I had people calling and ask what are you going to do. The best thing I’ve heard from scouts is for him to start. It’s a scheduled regimen where they all know when he’s going to throw as opposed to coming here and wondering ‘is he going to throw the ninth?’ You don’t want to waste anybody’s day,” Cassidy said.
It doesn’t hurt that it should also benefit Le Moyne. If Gray develops into the pitcher the Dolphins hope he can be, than he’s most valuable as a durable starting pitcher.
College Baseball Takeaways: Texas, Stanford Win Thrilling Openers
In an atmosphere befitting a series of that magnitude, the Longhorns claimed game 1 with a tight, 5-4 victory.
He understandably still has work to do to get there. In Le Moyne's opener, Gray was done after 4.1 innings. That was still the longest pitching outing he's had as a collegian. He allowed three hits, walked three and struck out four while allowing one run.
“It’s a little different,” Gray said. “You have to maintain that velocity and throw off-speed for strikes compared to closing when you can just bump fastballs by guys.”
Gray had further to go. His slider shows promise, but it’s not a consistent pitch yet. His changeup is usable but not as impressive as the slider. But his arm works well. He touched 95 mph and carried 91-92 mph into the final inning of his first start. Scouts watching Gray have to project on what he’s going to end up being now that he’s fully focused on pitching.
“If you had seen him two years ago to where he was to now, it’s night and day,” Cassidy said. “When he came in here he had a good, loose arm, but he didn’t really have refined off-speed stuff. Now his slider, I think his slider is much better than it was today. It’s turning into a plus pitch. And now he has a changeup he can mix in there too. It’s night and day, even from last year to this year.”