Sonny Gray understands better — much better — than most that the future is anything but guaranteed.
After all, it was five years ago last week that Jesse Gray — Sonny’s father, mentor and best friend — was lost to an early morning car accident. It was an event that in some ways dramatically changed everything for Sonny, who was a high school freshman at the time. In other ways, it only strengthened his resolve to continue on his path, which included a desire to be the best baseball player he possibly could be.
Sonny might not have every reason to feel good about his potential for a career as a professional baseball player. But he has two pretty good ones.
As Gray, a hard-throwing right-handed pitcher, enters his junior year at Vanderbilt, he can look to two former Commodores, David Price and Mike Minor, and feel comfortable that by next June he will: A) be viewed as one of the top prospects available for the Major League Baseball draft and B) have been as well-prepared as possible for what’s to come.
Granted, two players provide a relatively small sample. Yet it is a consistent one.
Not only did Price and Minor make their way through the minor league ranks in relatively short order, but when they did make it to the major leagues, they arrived with a flourish.
Minor made it earlier this month, in his first full season as a professional.
In just his third start for the Atlanta Braves, he tied a franchise record for strikeouts by a rookie with 12. The last time it had been done was in 1963. That performance gave him a 2-0 record and 22 strikeouts in 18 innings pitched.
Price made it two years earlier when he was a September call-up by the Tampa Bay Rays, also near the end of his first year as a pro.
Not long after — with all of 15 innings of experience — he excelled in one of the most pressure-packed situations imaginable — Game 7 of the league championship series.
He got the final four outs and earned the save as Tampa advanced to the World Series for the first time in history.
Price, of course, is now one of the best pitchers in the game and a leading candidate for the Cy Young Award.
Gray is right where Price was five years ago and where Minor was two years ago. He’s firmly entrenched as the Commodores’ ace and coming off a second straight summer as a top player for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team.
Major League scouts will watch him this spring just as they did his senior year in high school. He was considered a great prospect back then too, but just like Price and Minor, he delayed his entry into the pro ranks in favor of the college game.
It is well within reason to expect that he will hear his name called early in the draft, because that’s exactly what happened with Price (first overall, 2006) and Minor (seventh overall, 2009).
He’ll forgo his final year of college eligibility, as Price and Minor did, because that’s what top prospects do. When he does, it will be with the knowledge that he got the same training and guidance from head coach Tim Corbin and pitching coach Derek Johnson that those other two did, which means he’ll be prepared for early success.
Gray would be the first to say that none of that is guaranteed to happen, that all he can do is work hard, strive to improve, help his teammates win games and control what he can control.
On that topic, he’d be speaking from experience.