How Le Moyne’s best shortstop turned into one of DII baseball’s top aces with a 97 mph fastball
The Le Moyne Dolphins are rolling as the No. 20-ranked team in DII baseball. Currently 20-6, the Dolphins are 6-0 in Northeast-10 play for the first time in seven years.
A large reason for their early success is their undefeated junior ace Josiah Gray.
Le Moyne led all of DII baseball last season with a dazzling 2.61 ERA. This year, Gray is stealing the spotlight with a 1.33 ERA, which actually jumped 0.50 points after his "worst" start of the year last Friday when he allowed a mere three runs. Pretty impressive considering he was the Dolphins' best shortstop a year ago.
“I was recruiting him as a shortstop,” head coach Scott Cassidy told NCAA.com. “I went to watch him, he played short and only played four innings. The coach took him out and he started the next game of a doubleheader on the mound. He threw a couple innings. He wasn’t throwing overly hard at that time. He was pretty thin and wiry, but he had a really loose arm and was athletic. He looked like he could gain some weight and add some [velocity]. We ended up recruiting him as a two-way guy, and we thought he would be a shortstop first.”
Gray, or Jo Jo as his teammates endearingly call him, had a breakout summer in Cape Cod, touching 97 on the radar gun. Now on scouts' radars and climbing the 2018 MLB Draft prospect board, Cassidy knew his days as a shortstop were fading away.
“His [velocity] really jumped from his freshman and sophomore year,” Cassidy said. “So, we had to put him on the mound. But he was our best shortstop at the time, too, so we had to start him at short. That's why he was closing last year.
“Then he blows up in the Cape. His bread-and-butter is on the mound. He’s got a ton of power but strikes out a little too much, and he’s not a pro shortstop. We had a conversation in the fall and I told him his shortstop days are over.”
Gray has seemingly made the adjustment with relative ease. The righty — listed at 6-1 — is now 6-0 with that 1.33 ERA, a 0.99 WHIP, and 54 strikeouts in 47.1 innings. He picked up his first complete game shutout two outings ago on just 88 pitches.
So, what can you expect to see when Gray is on the bump?
On his pitch arsenal:
“Everyone knows about his velocity,” Cassidy said. “What people don’t realize is that he has such great command. He throws a ton of strikes. He doesn’t walk hitters, he attacks the strike zone. When he came here he didn’t really have too great of offspeed pitches, but he’s really worked hard. Now he’s got a really good slider. His changeup, which is his worst pitch, is really improved from last year. It is a serviceable pitch. Is it going to be a lights-out, strikeout pitch for him? It’s not right now, but very well could be.”
“Last spring, I threw a knuckle curve,” Gray told NCAA.com. “I couldn’t really find a grip for a slider. I honestly didn’t throw it that much because not too many people were in on the fastball. Going into the summer with Chatham I knew I needed an off-speed pitch because I knew these guys would be able to hit the fastball. I started to develop a slider. From there on out, I tinkered with the grip a little bit to get more movement each way and I think it’s paid off for me.
"It’s a feel kind of thing. From where I went from the knuckle curve to where I am with the slider was such a small fix, but it’s made a big impact. Same with the changeup. I didn’t throw many last year or over the summer, but coach told me having that changeup to throw to lefties and down and in to a righty will make me that much more effective. It’s a development that hasn’t been succeeded yet, but it’s something I’ve definitely progressed with.”
On his mindset:
“When I was closing, it was like go in, get your three outs and close it out to win the game,” Gray said. “This year it’s like we’ll establish this the first time around. It’s like I’m pitching one set to nine batters and then a second set to nine batters and so on. You have to establish yourself throughout the game but maintain your velocity and command because guys will pick up on things the third and fourth times around. I’m going from 12 pitches to 100-plus, everything can’t be a fastball.
“I always pride myself on not walking batters. No matter how many hits I give up, I dislike walking batters. My first thing is always attacking the batter and getting that first strike. There is a greater percentage of getting an out if you get that strike one. That’s for every batter you face, whether it’s the No. 5 batter or the No. 27 batter. You always have to establish that strike one. It’s always been attacking batters and making them prove they can hit.”
On his summer on the Cape:
“It was unbelievable,” Gray said. “Our team actually had four or five Division II guys. That made me more comfortable from the get-go. But getting out there and playing against guys that went to Louisville and UNC was an eye-opening experience. They have seen it all. It was beyond a great experience.
“I had two bad outings, but after that, I didn’t give up a run. In our playoff game against Orleans, we were down 2-1, and I had [Duke's] Jimmy Herron leading off an inning. I struck him out on a high fastball, it was in a big spot. That was the one that was most memorable.”
On playing shortstop:
“Oh yeah, of course I miss it,” Gray said. “During the spring I was still hitting in the cages. As the season progressed, I thought our offense is great enough, there is nothing I can help with. Before games, I still take balls at short. I value that more than missing the BP."
On the MLB Draft hype:
“It’s great to see that maturation and work pay off, but I try to put that on the backburner,” Gray said. “We have a great thing going. We’re 20-6. It’s our best start to a season since 2012. I’m really only focused on the wins right now.”
The important details:
Favorite baseball team: New York Yankees
Favorite players: Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter
Favorite baseball movie: The Sandlot