I try, on my Twitter feed, to be somewhat limited in my scope. Occasionally I stray, but most of my efforts revolve around Cubs prospects, player development, encouraging people to think for themselves, and figuring out “what’s next” in developing talent. Sometimes I stray, or question the necessity for the overuse of the term “need” in baseball commentary. However, if someone shows a tactic they’ve effectively used in practice, it fits in ideally. Some of my Twitter followers at @tim815 teach baseball at whatever level, and if it’s new to me, it might be new to some of them. Either inventing a new mousetrap, or improving old ones (from a baseball perspective), are always on point. Which is a goofy, yet very apt, introduction for this prospect profile of Drew Gray.
Drew Gray, left-handed pitcher
Born May 10, 2003. Richmond Heights, Missouri
Cubs 2021 3rd Round Draft choice (IMG Academy, Bradenton, Florida)
One of my overriding Cubs pipeline concerns for the 2022 season is maximizing the number of games in said pipeline, without unduly endangering players. With every 100 in-game innings, so to speak, players should generally get better. For some, they will expose themselves as “not worth keeping around.” On the face of it, that’s bad, but if a player really isn’t “full-season level good,” then he isn’t. Regardless the draft round or signing bonus, either a player is improving or plateauing. And, sometimes, he gets injured.
Batting practice in cages, taking grounders at third, or tracking fly balls is useful and necessary, but getting players into games is where teeth are cut, where talent is proven as worthy or not. The Cubs have two Dominican League teams, where all those things go on. The four full-season squads do the same, at a different level entirely, and with far more fanfare and coverage. However, the work at the Complex level is where the differences can shake out, if things are well planned.
At the minor league level, barring an injury, more games are better than fewer games. Nine inning games are better than seven inning games. with more pitchers pitching. More hitters hitting. More questions being answered, either in the affirmative or negative. Having a question being answered in the negative isn’t, per se, bad. It recommends a different course of action. If a third baseman can’t play third base, he tries another position, or he gets released. Especially at the lower levels.
How can the Cubs maximize the number of nine-inning games (or, at least, seven-inning games) in the Mesa Complex in 2022 and beyond? In my view, and with my knowledge of the Cubs system, they have plenty of infielders and outfielders on their offseason 190-man minor league off-season roster. (It dips to 180 in-season. Yuck.) The questions could be catchers (very few players want to catch, or are even remotely capable of playing the position at a professional level) or pitchers. The Cubs only had one team in 2021 in Mesa. They could have had two, but were unable to scrounge up enough (I’m projecting, here) pitching. For the Cubs to have a second team in Mesa in 2022, having more pitchers that can get nine or more outs seems a very important part.
Gray started at the prestigious (a word that I think must be affixed either here, or when talking about the Cape Cod Summer Baseball League) IMG Academy. There, Gray played with one of the 12 players on my short list of possible Cubs draft choices, Elijah Green. I saw an IMG Academy game on my computer last spring where IMG was head, neck, and shoulders above a really good foe. They can flat-out play. I remember being impressed by a lefty, but I doubt it was Gray, as this pitcher was a junior in March. The IMG stamp of approval is about all I need.
From Swansea, Illinois (three solid punts to the southeast of St. Louis) in high school, Gray was an Arkansas recruit. An Arkansas recruit from IMG Academy? Yeah, those are some valid bona fides.
Gray pitched very little in his first pro season, getting in four innings in two games. Per Arizona Phil, he seems to have enough to be ready to make a push for a rotation spot in Myrtle Beach as soon as April. If he’s even close to that, that’s a fantastic start to what could come next.
As to the plan, and since I’ve mentioned Arizona Phil, teams are having discussions about resurrecting the Advanced Level Rookie Ball (as the Cubs regularly had in Eugene as recently as in 2019) level, though it might be at the Complex. How they can do that with the 180 player in-season limit seems a bit difficult to navigate, but getting those extra development opportunities for both hitters and pitchers would seem quite useful. That teams are, apparently, realizing the organizations were harmed by eliminating an entire level of play gives me a perverse level of joy. After all, another angle of my Twitter persona that I don’t run from?
Mocking Rob Manfred trying to injure baseball whenever applicable.