In discussing the return the Washington Nationals received from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the trade for both Max Scherzer and Trea Turner, Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo talked last Friday about the top-ranked arm in LA’s system, Josiah Gray, as a pitcher who could make an immediate impact in the nation’s capital, after the 2018 2nd Round pick, who’d started the 2021 season at No. 68 on Baseball America’s Top 100 and at No. 58 on MLB.com’s top prospects list, debuted in the majors last month.
“Jo-Jo Gray is a terrific young prospect,” Rizzo said of the 23-year-old right-hander who came to the Nationals in the deal, along with catcher Keibert Ruiz, now the Nats’ No. 1 prospect on MLB Pipeline’s list, right-hander Gerardo Carillo (No. 17 on MLB’s prospect list for the Dodgers), and outfielder Donovan Casey, a 25-year-old, 2017 20th Round pick.
“[Gray’s] got great stuff and a terrific pitcher and he’s a guy that we should see very soon if not right away in the big leagues,” Rizzo added.
“He’s big league ready. He was a starting pitcher on a championship-caliber club with the Dodgers, and I think he’ll come over here and just continue to improve and make himself into one of the elite starting pitchers in the game.”
Before the series finale with the Chicago Cubs on Sunday, the Nationals announced that Gray would report directly to Washington, D.C. to make his debut for his new team in tonight’s matchup with the Philadelphia Phillies in Nationals Park.
“It’s awesome,” Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez said of the new addition to the rotation after both Scherzer and Lester (who was traded to St. Louis) left the starting corps.
“I just spoke with him for some time,” Martinez continued of his first talk with Gray.
“Great kid. Excited to watch him pitch, he’s going to start tomorrow for us, he’s excited, he’s excited to be here, we’re excited to have him.”
Gray, who immediately became the No. 2 prospect in the Nationals’ organization, brings a 94-95 MPH fastball, an 83 MPH curve, 86 MPH slider, and an 89 MPH changeup to the rotation, with MLB’s Pipeline scouts describing him as, “one of the toughest competitors in the [Dodgers’] system,” who, “brings that tenacity to a Nationals’ pipeline in need of potential stars.”
Martinez’s scouting report?
“He’s got a very live fastball, good breaking ball, good changeup,” Martinez said. “So I told him, ‘Hey, sit down with [fill-in pitching coach] Sam [Narron], I talked to [Pitching Coach] Jim Hickey this morning, he’s going to call him and go over the reports with him with the Phillies, and I told him just go out there, have fun, and get together with [catcher Tres] Barrera, who’s probably going to catch him tomorrow, and go over the game plan and just you be you. He’s had some good numbers, and I’m excited to see him go out there and compete.”
Pitching predominantly at Triple-A in the Dodgers’ system this season, Gray has put up a 2.87 ERA, a 3.97 FIP, two walks (1.15 BB/9), and 22 Ks (12.64 K/9) in four games, three as a starter, and 15 2⁄3 IP, and he struck out 13 in 8 IP in his two appearances in the big leagues (14.63 K/9).
The Nats now have four of the Top prospects in @MLB.— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) July 31, 2021
1⃣6⃣ // Keibert Ruiz - C
2⃣7⃣ // @CADECAVALLI - RHP
5⃣9⃣ // @JGrayy_ - RHP
9⃣2⃣ // @Brady_house7 - SS@BaseballAmerica // #NATITUDE pic.twitter.com/DKCL0qjSA5
He was limited somewhat, however, by a shoulder impingement in mid-May, before he got back on the mound and eventually debuted in the majors.
“He’s been fine. He’s been healthy,” Martinez said. “Obviously he had to work back to get that strength back, but like I said, he’s been throwing the ball really well, from everything I’ve gotten, he’s been throwing the ball really well. So, this is something like I said, we’ll keep an eye on, we’ll watch how his mechanics — it’s different watching video and then all of a sudden being able to see him live, so I’m looking forward to that, just watch him go out there, watch him compete where I can see him actually live and see how he reacts. A lot of times you just watch videos, something happens, you can’t see how he reacts to it, now we get to see all that stuff, so and he’s — like I told him today, ‘Look, I’m here to listen to you, more than you listen to me.
“‘I want you to tell me what you feel, what’s going on, and we’ll have these conversations throughout the days here, not just when you pitch, but the day after, or whenever, but we’re going to keep an eye on you, we’re excited that you’re here, we know that you’re going to be able help us, so just go out there and have fun.’”
Martinez’s initial impressions and what he’s heard in reports on the newest starter in the Nationals’ rotation?
“Everything I’ve heard about him he’s a great kid. Wants to put the work in, puts the work in, and he’s very competitive. So, like I said, I’m looking forward to building a relationship with him and moving forward watching him compete.”
“We’re going to watch him, we’re going to keep an eye on him,” the manager added. “We’re going to see how things change, we’ll see how he pitches in high-leverage situations, how he gets through it, how he manages it, and just go from there. We don’t — I don’t want him to come here and we change a bunch of things, we want him to go out there and just focus on pitching and competing right now, and Hickey and I will keep a close eye on him, and if we feel like we can help him in any way, we’ll have conversations with him and see what he’s up for. But my understanding is that he’s willing to learn, willing to try different things, but we want him to go out there — and like I said, he’s been pitching well, we just want him to go out there and just compete.”