Gray grew up always wanting be a Sooner—as a football player. He played defensive end and tight end in high school, catching passes from older brother Jack, who went on to play college football at Division II Northeastern State in Oklahoma. But Jonathan realized he had a chance to be drafted in baseball, so he gave up football as a senior. (March 2013)
In 2010, Jonathan graduated from Chandler High School in Shawnee, Oklahoma, after going 8-1 with a 1.50 ERA and 115 strikeouts in 65 innings as a senior.
He played for the school's baseball, basketball, and football teams, though he focused on baseball in his senior year. That year, he was named the Little All-City Player of the Year by The Oklahoman and was named to the All-State Team.
In 2010, Gray was the Royals 13th round pick, out of high school. He did not sign, and though he was committed to the University of Oklahoma, he switched to Eastern Oklahoma State JC so he would be eligible for the 2011 draft.
In 2011, Jon was the Yankees 10th round pick, out of Eastern Oklahoma State Junior College. But again he did not sign, choosing instead to transfer to the University of Oklahoma.
Gray's older brother, Jack, is a big inspiration to him. He was a very good pitcher in high school, then played college football. And he also makes sure Jon stays straight-on with his choices, working out and eating right. And Jon is very dedicated, doing a great job of conditioning. He is also very coachable. He's a hard worker.
Jonathan is easy-going, gregarious, and he loves to laugh and to make other laugh. He also loves to dance. He will come into a room, bust a dance move and then he’ll walk away, like nothing happened. He’s just a fun guy to be around.
June 2013: Gray tested positive for the medication Adderall during baseball's pre-draft drug testing program. The positive test did not result in a suspension, but will make Gray subject to additional follow-up testing once he began his pro career, according to a source with Major League Baseball. Adderall comprises salts of two amphetamines and is banned by MLB unless the player has a valid therapeutic use exemption. Multiple sources indicated that Gray did not have a prescription for the drug.
In 2013, the College Baseball Hall of Fame named Gray their Pitcher of the Year.
In 2014, Baseball America had Jonathan as the #1 prospect in the Rockies organization. In 2015, they dropped Gray to second-best, behind only OF David Dahl.
Jon's grandfather, who is of Cherokee descent, had some fun teaching Gray a few basics of the Native American tribe's language, like frequently used words and animal names.
"He's always been kind of a goofball—he'll throw Spanish, Cherokee and English together, thinks it's pretty funny," Gray said.
But Gray knows there is sadness. By the time he arrived at the University of Oklahoma and took classes in Cherokee as part of his multidisciplinary studies major, he learned that the language is disappearing. Had Gray not become a Major League pitcher, he said his dream was to seek employment with the Cherokee Nation.
"I'm just one-eighth—not very much, but I feel like it's pretty unique to be a Cherokee citizen," Gray said. "To do something really good, being a Cherokee, is really important. If I'd worked for the Cherokee Nation, I would have made sure our identity was still there. I know lately, they've been cutting the budgets on language classes. The kids go to these Cherokee schools and they have signs in front of them that say, 'No English beyond this point.' So they grow up speaking Cherokee, and start speaking English in the fifth, sixth grade. But I'd make sure that everyone would be able to talk the language."
Not wanting to overstate a connection and be disrespectful, Gray said he hasn't spoken much about his Cherokee roots. The closest to an outward sign is the shield, tattooed to the left side of his chest, featuring the names of the Five Civilized Tribes—Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muskogee Creek and Seminole. He noted that his Twitter handle, @MrGrayWolf22, is merely a handle based on his last name, not a cheesy attempt to sound native.
But Gray is humbled that the Nation acknowledges him and his accomplishments. Here is a recent tweet before Gray and the Rockies earned a 3-1 win on July 27, 2016 over the Orioles and fellow Cherokee Nation citizen Dylan Bundy.
"It's really important to me to be kind of accepted, even though I'm not a full-blooded or half-blooded Cherokee," Gray said. "It's important for the kids in the Cherokee Nation to feel like they have a role model. Someone can say, 'Maybe I can do that, too.'"
Gray arrived at Oklahoma with a little background and called Cherokee "a hard language to learn," but he said that taking it in college sparked such a passion that he became a better student than he ever was in high school. And he didn't stop with those language courses.
Jon follows the exploits of other Cherokee athletes. He went to a rodeo arena on the property of world-class bull rider Ryan Dirteater to work chutes during practice sessions a couple years ago, and he is a fan of heavyweight boxer Wes Nofire. Gray plans to keep the tribe close to his heart when he is done with baseball.
"For as talented as those kids are that I've seen, they should be getting a lot further than they are," Gray said. "I think a lot of it is money. I'd like to help out, if I could in some way. They're talented athletes, and they're in every sport." (Harding - MLB.com)
Jan 5, 2017: Gray loves the paranormal and is a ghost hunter whenever he has the time, and doesn't even mind finding it. But he wants to leave it right where it is.
"I go chase ghosts all day," Gray said during a wide-ranging and somewhat whimsical interview with MLB Network Radio's Casey Stern. "But I don't know if I want them coming back to where I'm at."
He utilizes Electronic Voice Phenomenon [EVP] to scour walls and rooms for disembodied voices or cameras to pick up what human eyes can't.
But he is not afraid of ghosts at Coors Field where he continues to dominate at home. (T Harding - MLB.com - Jan 6, 2017)
March 17, 2017: Jon Gray was putting in a regular workout between starts last summer, when he and a member of the Coors Field grounds crew began to chat. The subject turned to the 25-year-old righthander's long hair, and what Gray did with his hair when he cut it. Gray was a bit curious about the inquiry.
By the time the conversation was over, Gray had been introduced to Locks of Love, a program designed for people to donate their hair to be used for hairpieces for children who have suffered significant hair loss because of cancer, severe burns or other medical issues. Gray plans to make his next donation next month.
"I had the ability to do this so why not?" he said Gray, after all, is a rising star on the baseball field, and his effort will bring attention to the efforts of Locks of Love.
Now, Gray wants to help youth win a personal battle much more challenging than anything that happens on a playing field. And he's nearing the time for his first donation. Gray's hair has reached the required 10-inch length, but he said he will wait for about another month to let it grow out a bit more so he will have some hair left on his head post-cut. He has always had longer hair, but he said when he learned about Locks of Love, he decided to grow it even longer.
"There are requirements," Gray said. "It has to be 10 inches from the ponytail, and you have to make sure it is in a ponytail before you send it off. You put a rubber band around it, then put it into a [sealed plastic] bag and an envelope, and mail it."
The biggest challenge so far? Having patience as his hair grows. "I started [growing] this in the spring of 2015," said Gray. "I've always had longer hair, but not this long. It's worth it, though, if it can help those kids."
Sounds simple. And it is. But it has a profound impact on the children suffering from long-term medical hair loss. The peer pressure associated with losing hair can be just as difficult to endure as the medical issue itself. Locks of Love helps to alleviate that.
"Locks of Love is devoted to helping every child suffering from medical hair loss, thus we do not discriminate as to the cause of hair loss," reads a statement on the organization's website. The charity is focused on children from financially disadvantaged families. (T Ringolsby - MLB.com - March 18, 2017)
The message touched Rockies pitcher Jon's heart and his head: Children are going through medical procedures that cost them their hair. And he had lots of it.
On the Rockies' Facebook Live feed, and with a room full of local media watching, Gray had eight inches of his long, blond hair cut off for a donation to Locks of Love—a public, non-profit organization that provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children age 21 and younger who have medical long-term hair loss. The cut took place in the interview room at Coors Field.
Until it grows back, that's it for Gray's signature look. "That's a lot … but it's for a good purpose," Gray said, peeking at the strands of golden hair resting on the purple carpeting, waiting for it to be swept and donated.
Gray made the decision with his wife, Jacklyn, who was on hand for the cutting. Jacklyn said she likes Gray's hair long. Although he has had a few small trims, Gray hadn't had a true haircut in a long time. Jacklyn said the last time Gray's hair was this short was when they were married on Aug. 21, 2015.
"Once Jon found out he could donate his hair, we discussed it," Jacklyn said. "He decided, 'This is something I wanted to do.' It's an awesome thing to do." (Harding - mlb.com - 4/11/17)
July 5, 2017: Gray had never hit a Major League home run. In five Minor League seasons? Zero. At the University of Oklahoma? Not even an at-bat.
But in his first plate appearance of the game against Scott Feldman, Gray absolutely bom-boozled a ball—467 feet!
According to Statcast, it's the longest dinger at Coors Field this season and the longest by a pitcher at any ballpark since 2015. (Jeff Samardzija hit one 446 feet at Coors.) (Cut4-MLB)
In October 2016, Jon and his wife Jacklyn helped launch the New Life Church in the Denver Metro Area.
June 6, 2013: The Rockies chose Gray in the first round, out of the University of Oklahoma. He was the third overall pick in the draft, behind P Mark Appel to the Astros, and 3B Kris Bryant to the Cubs.
He signed six days later, via scout Jesse Retzlaff, for $4.8 million. That was below the assigned slot value of about $5.6 million but still a record for the Rockies. Their previous high was $3.9 million given to lefthander Tyler Matzek in 2009.
|Birth City:||Shawnee, OK|
|Draft:||Rockies #1 - 2013 - Out of Univ. of Oklahoma|
Gray has a 93-99 mph FASTBALL that has hit 102 mph and that heater has a bit of run and slight sink; and he has better command of his fastball than most guys that throw that hard. That heater rates a 70 grade on the 20-80 scouting scale.
He also has a plus 85-89 mph SLIDER (rated a 70 on the 20-80 scale) with sharp bite and tight late break when it's thrown correctly. He can cut that slider like a fastball, and he can back-door it on the outside corner to lefties. He has a CURVEBALL, and a SINKER, but only rarely uses either pitch. But, he also has an above-average (at least a 55 grade) 84-87 mph straight CHANGEUP with run and sink that is effective vs. lefthanders and he has above-average command of it.
"When my changeup's on, it's money, and I throw it a lot," Jonathan said. (Spring 2016)
2018 Season Pitch Usage: 4-seam Fastball: 49.6% of the time; Change 1.7%; Slider 34%; and Curve 14.7% of the time. Average velocity: 4-seam 95.5 mph, Change 87.2, Slider 88.6, and Curve 80.4 mph.
2017 Season Pitch Usage: 4-seam Fastball: 58.5% of the time; Change 1.9%; Slider 25.9%; and his Curve 13.7% of the time.
2016 Season Pitch Usage: 4-seam Fastball: 49.8% of the time; Sinker 5.1% of the time; Change 7%; Slider 27%; and his Curve 11% of the time.
In 2015, Jon used this three-pitch mix: 4-seam fastball 64% of the time; his slider 19% of the time, and his changeup 17 percent of the time.
But in 2016, Gray brought back his sinker and curveball, at least occasionally.
In 2017, Jon used his fastball 57 percent of the time, but batters hit .338 of that heater. Gray used is slider 27.6% of the time (holding hitters to a .165 batting average), and his curveball almost 14% of the time (which batters hit only .189 of his curve). He only used his change 1.6% of the time in 2017.
Gray's slider has become one of the most ferocious weapons in the game.
Opponents hit just .171 with two doubles against Gray’s slider in 2016, and that helped him lead all rookies with 185 strikeouts. He must improve his fastball command and feel for his below-average changeup to lower his ERA and approach frontline-starter status, but this season was a big step in that direction.
Jon is more strong than athletic. But he wants to be a pitcher, not a thrower. He does real well at pitching to both sides of the plate. His biggest advancements will come once he learns to read hitters and situations and develop pitch-ability.
"My main goal is to become a full pitcher, not just a guy who goes out there and throws. Because I want to have both pitch-ability and power," Gray said. "(But) you can't really overpower guys a lot of times like you can in college baseball. These guys can hit fastballs, so location is really important."
Gray has such an easy, short and efficient delivery that it looks like he’s playing catch with his grandfather out in the backyard. He does not have a high-effort delivery. The ball just comes out of his hand really easily. And he throws it to both sides of the plate. He could throw fastball in, then he’ll throw fastball away, and it isn’t like the umpire is giving him some. He can be that dominant.
And he consistently maintains high-90s heat through the late innings of a start.
Consistently locating his heater low in the zone is critical for survival at Coors Field. And Jon rates slightly better-than-average 55 grade control.
Gray endeavors to reach a particular point in his delivery on a consistent basis. But that is an issue Darryl Scott, Tulsa’s pitching coach, considers minor.
“Just every once in a while, he has a tendency to, as that leg’s coming up, he’s already starting to drift forward a little bit,” Scott said. “As pitchers, we all have a tendency to get a little drifty at times, and (I’m) just making sure he’s allowing himself time for that arm to catch up.”
During 2014 spring training, Jon spent as much time as possible with veteran pitchers Brett Anderson and LaTroy Hawkins.
“The spring was really fun,” Gray said. “I got so much information from being there a month. That was definitely a great experience, and that’s what’s helped me a lot this year.”
When Gray gives up a home run, you can see the focus and the attention to detail and that competitiveness come out of him, and that’s one of the things you have to really like about him. He never quits battling.
“It worries you if stuff goes the other way. With him, you don’t worry about it going the other way. He doesn’t get softer. He gets more intense and more focused," Scott said.
"That's what’s going to make you throw every pitch with conviction,” Gray said. “Even if you don’t fully believe in it, you’re going to make yourself believe that pitch is going to go where you want it to. That’s what keeps you in it and just makes you a competitor.” (Steve Hunt - Baseball America - 6/20/14)
2014 Season: Gray ranked among the Texas League leaders in opponent average (.237), strikeouts per nine innings (8.2) and WHIP (1.19). One TL manager noted that he seemed to pitch better after giving up a few hits. Others described him as a bulldog. “He just attacks constantly, and his cutter is really good,” Arkansas manager Phillip Wellman said in 2014.
Expect Gray to be a #2 starting pitcher in the bigs.
The Rockies envisioned a pitcher with an overpowering fastball and baffling secondary pitches when they drafted Gray third overall out of Oklahoma in 2013. In 2015, Gray was making that happen. Two calendar years and much education since being selected one pick behind the Cubs Kris Bryant, Gray was heating up at Triple-A Albuquerque and approaching Major League readiness.
Before finding success, Gray said he began visualizing it. Discussions with Albuquerque manager Glenallen Hill, pitching coach Darryl Scott, and Rockies peak performance coordinator Andy McKay helped put Gray in a better mental position, and the physical improvements followed.
"I'm trying to make sure of the pitch I was throwing before I threw it, that, 'I'm going to execute that pitch, and this pitch is going to get the hitter out,'" Gray said. "I visualize it before I throw it. That way, there are no negative thoughts that can get in the way.
"When things are rolling and three or four ground balls get through, or when you throw a good pitch and he hits one in the gap, before, it was, 'Why? I made a good pitch, and he hit that? Does my ball look flat? Is my stuff easy to see?'" Gray said. "Once you get out of your own head, your ability can come out."
Gray also adjusted his slider by keeping his fingers higher on the ball rather than to the side—a flaw that led to loopy action over the plate, rather than the intended downward bite. He said he is working on a more consistent changeup, and he realizes he can enhance his chances at big league success by improving fundamentals such as bat handling and fielding. (Harding - mlb.com - 6/4/15)
2015: A big man at 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, Gray has a mix of pitches that include a high-velocity fastball that can reach 100 mph, a wicked slider and an improving changeup. Each pitch is effective, with the changeup gaining momentum as a pitch he can use with confidence to induce weak contact.
Gray's velocity had always been high, until he hit a bit of a rough patch last season. Perhaps some shoulder fatigue he encountered last season factored into the equation. Gray's velocity has declined just a bit recently, and he generally sits in the mid-to-high 90s. He doesn't need to hit 100 to be successful. Gray is fine where he's currently sitting.
Gray's slider may be his best overall pitch. While he uses both sides of the plate and pitches up and down in the zone with his fastball, he takes advantage of missing the plate with his late moving slider. Gray induces plenty of swings and misses with that approach, and it works. His fastball/slider combination may work very well at hitter friendly Coors Field, where missing bats or getting hitters to pound the ball into the ground are the best approach. When Gray is in sync, he can dominate a lineup.
Gray is making progress with his changeup. If he can keep the same release point on that pitch as he has with his other two offerings, he will be very tough to hit. (Bernie Pleskoff - MLB.com - 8/27/15)
Jon is trying to put sequences together. He’s got an idea of how he wants to get guys to chase, whether it be above the zone or below. (Sept. 2015)
December 2015: Gray is planning to unveil his gift to the Rockies come Spring Training. Gray, 24, the third pick in the 2013 draft, made his Major League debut with nine starts that swung the gamut from brilliant to bad. His 0-2 record and 5.53 ERA, under a tightly controlled innings limit, included three games of five or more innings, five or more strikeouts and two or fewer runs, but also included blowups of seven runs in 1 2/3 innings and five in 4 2/3.
But Gray said they taught him two lessons: He is good enough to compete and possibly dominate, and he needed a new weapon. As soon as the Rockies shut him down with two weeks left in the season, he began working on a new curveball.
Gray lit up like a kid on Christmas when talking about a pitch that could be a shiny new addition to an impressive arsenal that includes a fastball in the 93-96 mph range, and a slider averaging close to 87 mph.
"I'd never thrown a curveball in my life, could never get the spin," said Gray, who purchased a two-foot artificial tree for the first Christmas for himself and his wife, Jacklyn. "I would always watch videos before my start of dominant righties—Yu Darvish, Felix Hernandez, Gerrit Cole, Garrett Richards. I noticed a lot of them had something really slow to throw a hitter off. I saw that as a weapon, if I could learn it. I asked the coaches if they could start working with me on one. They were pretty open about it."
Bullpen coach Darren Holmes, whose curveball helped him thrive as a member of the Rockies' bullpen from 1993-97, taught Gray how to make the pitch work consistently. Gray said he already is creating a consistent "12-6" downward break (think of the hands of a clock at 12:30). He hopes his new toy floats in "below 80, maybe at 75," which would be slower than his changeup, which travels at about 85 mph.
But it's more than the added pitch. It's the enthusiasm with which Gray is attacking it. After a down-then-up season at Triple-A Albuquerque and some hard lessons in the Majors, Gray is not spooked. That'll do him good, especially at Coors Field.
The Rockies believe in him, and expect him to prove worthy of being in the season-opening rotation. (Thomas Harding - MLB.com - 2015)
After the 2015 season, Gray realized he had to “be in attack mode with every pitch.” Gray said that sometimes wasn’t the case “because of the fear of walking people. But I don’t live with that anymore.”
He also said he wanted to do a better job of pitching inside, getting ahead of hitters, being more effective with two strikes and being smarter with his secondary pitches. That group now includes a curveball in addition to a slider and changeup. According to Pitch FX, hitters facing Gray last year saw a 94 mph fastball, an 87 mph slider and an 85 mph changeup.
But he also watched teammate Bettis, who throws a mid-90s fastball, cause hitters problems with his high 70s curveball. Gray was all for trying to learn the pitch. Rockies bullpen coach Darren Holmes said Gray was able to spin the ball immediately when playing catch last season. He first threw the curveball in a bullpen session this spring. The pitch has a 12-to-6 break, Holmes said, and Gray is working to get his release point on the pitch consistent.
In 2015, Gray moved from the first-base side to the third-base side of the rubber before joining the Rockies to give his slider more room to break. Gray continued to creep off the third-base side, so pitching coach Steve Foster and Holmes moved him to the middle of the rubber, so he could have better plate coverage with his two-seamer.
In the side session following his major league debut, Holmes and Foster began working with Gray to quiet and simplify his delivery. The extra hand movement is gone. He has minimized his head movement. And he’s no longer swinging his lift leg back, causing his weight to shift to his heel, his front side to open and Gray to miss arm side with a lot of pitches.
“He had a lot of moving parts,” Holmes said. “So what we did was really clean it up, put him in a position when he lifts his leg, he’s loading as he lifts instead of lifting his leg and having to swing it back to load.”
“He’s being a good student and he’s listening and he’s open to anything,” Holmes said. “He wants to get better. He has no ego, and he’s done a really good job allowing us to make some big changes with him. And he did it in the course of while he was pitching in the big leagues.” (Jack Etkin - Baseball America - 3/25/2016)
May 2016: Jon Gray has added a new trick. During spring training, we learned that Gray was working on a curveball. It was designed to complement his killer slider and work-in-progress changeup. He shelved the curveball during spring training, but it has reappeared over the course of his first few outings (with success).
I don't recall hearing anything about Jon Gray adding a sinker. That's why it was so surprising to see that Gray, according to Brooks Baseball, has been throwing a sinker (or, two-seam fastball; Brooks does not distinguish between a two-seam fastball and a sinker).
Gray has not, however, been throwing it for very long. Just like his new curveball, Brooks records no instances of a sinker being thrown in his 2015 innings. And, indeed, it records zero instances of Gray throwing the sinker over his first four starts. He's only been throwing it for the past two games. (Eric Garcia McKinley - May 14, 2016)
September 17, 2016: Gray ate the Padres' lineup alive while achieving a club-record 16 strikeouts and throwing the first complete game and shutout of his career, an 8-0 domination at Coors Field.
Gray surpassed Darryl Kile's 14 strikeouts, achieved Aug. 29, 1998, at Montreal. Also, while throwing 113 pitches without walking anyone, Gray surpassed Randy Johnson's record of 14 Ks at Coors, for the D-backs on April 13, 2001. (Thomas Harding - MLB.com - 9/19/2016)
Gray talks about his slider: “I started throwing a slider in probably 2012. I first learned how to throw a slurve, and that taught me how to throw a slider. I remember my uncle teaching me to throw one. He was like, ‘Don’t be throwing curves. You need to throw slurves and cutters, so you don’t mess up your arm.’ He didn’t want any action on my wrist.
“I learned how to throw that, a slurve, which is kind of the basics of a slider. In high school, I didn’t really have a grip. I didn’t know how to hold one, I guess. I just kind of made up my own grip and went with it. I didn’t watch baseball growing up — I watched none — so it was kind of hard.
“When I got to college, I had my first pitching coach. He showed me how to hold a slider. That’s when it really took off. That’s when I learned how to spin it, why it needs to spin, and how it moves. The way I’d been holding it before was crazy different. I was holding it like a two-seam.“I’d say I learned how to throw it like a fastball my second year of college [in 2013]. I learned how to throw it as an out-pitch, so that it would be there and gone. That’s kind of how it started getting good. I wanted a pitch that looked like my fastball. I wanted to be able to bring the heat and keep them guessing.
“There have been some tinkers here and there. I don’t hold it the same as I did when I first learned the right way. And I use it differently. I’ll use it backdoor to lefties. I’ll used it inside to righties. Sometimes I’ll use it kind of like a cutter and go up-and-in to lefties. It does [take guts to throw elevated sliders], but there are some left-handed swingers [for whom] the pitch shape doesn’t match their swing at all. They somehow can’t hit it. It’s weird.” ( David Laurila -Fangraphs - March 18, 2019)
- As of the start of the 2020 season, Jon had a 43-33 career record, a 4.46 ERA, having allowed 78 home runs and 645 hits in 641 innings.
August 23, 2014: Gray was on the D.L. with shoulder fatigue.
March 24-April 22, 2016: Gray was on the DL with a strained abdominal muscle.
April 14-June 30, 2017: Gray was on the DL with a left foot navicular stress fracture, which is in the middle of the foot. The injury is in a different spot from the toe injury that affected him during Spring Training, although it's possible the issues were related. Gray secured the out when he extended for Eduardo Nunez's chopper. He didn't feel it until he rifled the ball to first base, but believes he likely suffered the injury on the leap.
July 24, 2019: Rockies right-handed pitcher Jon Gray believes part of his role is to provide glue when cracks appear. But as cracks grow to craters, Gray is having a hard time keeping his health together. As he worked toward putting the Rockies back on track, Gray sustained a bruised right calf on a second-inning line drive and left the doubleheader opener against the Nationals.
- Aug 21-Nov 4, 2019: Gray was on the IL with left foot fracture.