Josiah Gray was the best-dressed man in the Dodgers’ dugout Saturday afternoon.
The Dodgers’ No. 4 overall prospect, who was honored before Saturday’s game as the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year, wore a black suit to match his polished, shiny shoes. The top button of his blue dress shirt was left undone, the collar popped onto his lapels. To complete his classy look, he wore a confident demeanor. A smile was planted on his face as he strolled around a ballpark he hopes to someday call home.
“It’s just crazy,” Gray said, “to think about it all.”
Gray never expected to be here. The New York native was drafted out of a tiny Division II school by the Cincinnati Reds in the second round in 2018. He posted solid stats in a dozen rookie league games that summer. He never considered the possibility of being traded.
But when the Dodgers and Reds struck a deal to send Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Kyle Farmer and Alex Wood to Cincinnati last offseason, Gray and fellow Reds prospect Jeter Downs were shipped to Los Angeles, along with Homer Bailey (who was released by the Dodgers the next day). The trade was completed Dec. 21 last year -– Gray’s 21st birthday.
“I really liked the Dodgers, and Puig and Kemp were two really exciting players,” Gray said. “To be involved in a trade with them, it’s like, ‘Wow.’ But that’s the business part of the game.”
His sensational 2019 season has suddenly made the transaction seem like a good investment.
Gray dominated in 26 appearances (25 starts) between single A, high A, and double A this year. He went 11-2 with an ERA of 2.28, 147 strikeouts, sub-1.00 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning), .207 batting average against and only 31 walks in 130 innings. After starting the year outside of the top 10 of the team’s prospect rankings, according to MLB Pipeline, he finished inside the top five.
“I know, now, I’m up there, top five,” he said, grinning. “My mom tells me all about it. A lot of people tell me about. It’s hard not to know that.”
Gray had to block out a different kind of noise when he first joined the Dodgers. Initially, the trade was treated as a salary dump. Gray and Downs -– a shortstop who is now ranked No. 5 in the Dodgers farm system after hitting .276 with 24 home runs in 119 total games between high A and double A -– were considered little more than consolatory chips offered in return.
“People saw two big contracts being exchanged,” Gray said. “But I think a lot of people didn’t realize the prospects that were going the other way … Having us have the years we’ve had, I think a lot of people are going to say, ‘Oh, that trade wasn’t a salary dump. These kids can come out and play ball. They can be future big leaguers.’”
Gray credits the Dodgers’ farm system with speeding up his development. Between stops in Great Lakes, Rancho Cucamonga and Tulsa last year, he played for three teams, three managers, three pitching coaches. But the organization’s collaborative approach, as he called it, kept the message consistent. He was able to “smooth out” the rough edges of his game and develop his fastball-slider-changeup arsenal. Now, he looks like a potential gem.
“Everyone is really all in for you, no matter if you’re a first-rounder, 40th-rounder,” Gray said. “Everyone is really trying to make you the best player you can be. Having that system makes guys want to come to the ballpark every day, really want to get better.”
By the time he took the field Saturday to accept his honor alongside Gavin Lux, the Dodgers’ minor league player of the year, Gray had slipped on a necktie. It was the first time most Dodger fans laid their eyes upon the 6-foot-1, 190-pound right-hander. He wanted to continue building on his sharp first impression.
“I just target going out every fifth day and give a good outing every time, as simple as that may be,” Gray said. “That’s my mentality when I’m out there with the ball. For it to culminate to what it did for this year, this big award, I’m going to stick to that process. Hopefully, it takes me far.”