Josiah Gray was preparing to celebrate his 21st birthday on Dec. 21, 2018, when he learned that the Reds, the team that had taken him 72nd overall out of Division II Le Moyne College (N.Y.) that June, had traded him to the Dodgers as part of the deal that sent
Josiah Gray was preparing to celebrate his 21st birthday on Dec. 21, 2018, when he learned that the Reds, the team that had taken him 72nd overall out of Division II Le Moyne College (N.Y.) that June, had traded him to the Dodgers as part of the deal that sent Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Alex Wood and Kyle Farmer to Cincinnati.
By January, Gray was getting his first taste of life in his new organization, pitching in front of a host of Dodgers player development personnel during an offseason minicamp.
“I love to learn about everything baseball, and being in this organization, they throw a lot at you,” said Gray, the Dodgers’ No. 3 prospect (MLB No. 67), during a live stream on MLB’s Twitch channel in May. “But I knew I could handle it, so understanding that and understanding that there’s a lot more at the surface than just throwing a baseball made me appreciate the organization even more.”
But little did Gray know that his first bullpen session would set the stage for a breakout first full season in the Minors, one in which he was named the Dodgers Minor League Pitcher of the Year after climbing three levels, from Class A Great Lakes to Double-A Tulsa. Altogether, he compiled an 11-2 record, 2.28 ERA and 0.99 WHIP over 130 innings. He also posted a 10.2 K/9 against a 2.1 BB/9, all while holding hitters to a .207 average.
“My first bullpen with them, in January, I didn’t really know what kind of pitcher I was or how to use my stuff,” Gray admitted. “I just knew that I’d been successful up to this point and didn’t have a lot of innings on my arm.
“So my first bullpen I’m throwing, starting to learn more about my arsenal and what I do well, and going off of that kind of opened my eyes to the point where I knew they were going to continue to develop me and make sure I’m the best pitcher I can be.”
Under the guidance of the Dodgers’ player development staff, with the latest and best baseball technology at their disposal, the two parties assessed how Gray gripped and executed his pitches. More importantly, they looked at how the young right-hander could get the most out of his highly promising arsenal.
“We tinkered with the grips on most of my pitches, just to try to maximize the movement and offer a little bit more comfortability in my hand,” said Gray, who features four average-or-better offerings in a fastball, slider, changeup and curveball, the latter of which he added to his repertoire this past spring.
During our stream, the New Rochelle, N.Y., native demonstrated how he now grips each of his pitches:
“I like to hold my four-seamer across the Rawlings logo. I keep my fingers nice and close, which is interesting because, in terms of spin efficiency, you’ll find guys get a lot more spin efficiency if they spread their fingers out more. But with me, I just keep them close, and my spin efficiency is still pretty high. Using that grip has helped me understand that.”
“When I got over here, we switched up the grip a little bit to just to get a little bit more break to the glove side. I keep my middle finger on the [outer] seam, hug it really tight, and put my thumb on the bottom of the ball. I don’t like to grab the seam that much because it makes me choke the ball, so I just keep it in the middle of the ball and have my index finger right alongside that. What’s unique about my slider is that I try to think curveball so I can emphasize that sort of over exaggeration so the ball will come off my fingers and have a good spin axis and fall right off the table.
“It was a process learning that about my slider and trying to optimize that. It took me a lot of bullpens, and I’m still trying to optimize it and make it the best it can be … I would say all of my pitches have improved, but definitely the slider has improved the most with the help of the player development staff over here.”
“I base it off the label of the ball. I like to have my middle finger on the middle of the seam, kind of choking it so I create top spin when I release it, and my thumb is in the middle underneath the ball. I sort of just spike it at the top of the logo, and what I’m thinking is just try to keep the same arm slot as always so it can mirror my fastball.
“With emphasis on top spin, it will, more often than not, come out and fall off the same plane as my fastball. It’s helped me offer a different look -- it looks like a fastball and helps me access the lower part of the zone as well. It gets me check swings to where I can then use my fastball up in the zone or throw my slider off it because it might look the same to a hitter.
“[The Dodgers] have continued to help me perfect it and make it more consistent, because when I throw it, and when I throw it in the zone, it’s going to be a good pitch.”
“I base it off the Rawlings logo again. It’s a two-seam changeup … my middle finger is going to be right outside the seam; my ring finger is across the other seam; index finger is on the side of the ball to get that tumble that a good changeup will have; thumb is on the bottom of the ball; my pinky is on the side. I try to use my ring finger and my thumb as my dominant fingers to try to lower the spin direction, because most good changeups are lower in spin direction than a fastball.
Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.