“I’ve learned a lot about just being able to deal with things,” Gray said Wednesday in a phone call from Kansas. “I think I’ve come a long way in that aspect of the game from experience and playing games at a high level and knowing you’re going to fail but being able to keep your head on an even keel. I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned throughout my career.”
Gray hit .351 with 11 home runs and 70 RBIs in 59 games as a junior at Wright State in 2019. He started his pro career that same summer and hit .225 with 11 home runs and 36 RBIs in 57 games with the Elizabethton Twins in the Appalachian League at the rookie level. On Aug. 30 that year, the Twins promoted Gray to the Class-A Cedar Rapids Kernels in the Midwest League, and he .313 (5 for 16) in four games.
Then the pandemic shut down minor league baseball in 2020. Gray worked out that summer in Springfield and at Wright State. He returned to action in 2021 with Cedar Rapids and hit .212 with 11 home runs and 51 RBIs in 113 games.
Gray returned to Cedar Rapids for the 2022 season. He improved his numbers, hitting .245 with 16 home runs and 67 RBIs in 113 games. He earned a promotion to Wichita in September and hit .091 (2 for 22) in seven games with one home run.
This season, Gray’s average and on-base percentage (.368) are both career highs. He’s split time between first base and third base and also started four games as the designated hitter.
“At first, it was a little bit different and a bit of an adjustment because my last few years I played every day,” Gray said. “This year, we’ve got a lot of guys on this team, a lot of infielders in particular. It was kind of a rotation early on. But here recently I’m playing more consistently. I feel like our manager wanted us prove ourselves and give everybody a chance. Now it’s getting to the point of more consistent ABs every day. It’s easier to hit like that. Numbers wise, this year has been good. Mentally, physically I’ve been feeling good. I’m happy about the first half of the year and excited to see what the All-Star break brings.”
Gray earned a brief promotion to the Triple-A Saint Paul Saints on May 31 and went 1-for-4 the next day but then returned to Wichita a day later. Gray was part of a roster shuffle. When the Twins activated Jorge Polanco from the injured list, they sent Edouard Julien back to Triple-A. Julien took Gray’s spot.
“I kind of knew it was going to be brief,” Gray said, “but I just tried to take advantage of the opportunity.”
Adjusting to the game at the higher levels is a challenge. Gray got a taste of Double-A last season to prepare for this season.
“I think it’s definitely the biggest jump in terms of competition and pitching and all that,” he said. “Last year, I struggled with it. I made some swing adjustments this offseason, and I feel more prepared this year. The game kind of slowed down a little bit.”
At Double-A, the idea of playing in the big leagues becomes more real. The player the Twins drafted one round ahead of Gray in 2019, Spencer Steer, is now starting for the Cincinnati Reds after being traded, along with Christian Encarnacion-Strand, now one of the Reds’ top minor-league prospects, and left-handed pitcher Steven Hajjar at the deadline in 2022 for starting pitcher Tyler Mahle.
Gray shared a photo of himself with Steer on the field at Great American Ball Park last October.
“Sat on the other side of the fence tonight to watch my boy play,” Gray wrote.
Gray’s former Wright State teammate, Peyton Burdick, who was drafted one around ahead of him in 2019, made his big-league debut with the Miami Marlins last season and has appeared in 14 games in the big leagues this season. Centerville graduate Quincy Hamilton, who was a sophomore at Wright State in Gray’s final season, earned a promotion to Triple-A in the Houston Astros organization in early June. Another former teammate, Tyler Black, a first-round pick in 2021, is in Double-A in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.
The most successful former Raider of recent years, Centerville grad Sean Murphy, is having a career year with the Atlanta Braves, hitting .289 with 13 home runs and 44 RBIs in 60 games. Murphy’s college career ended the season before Gray arrived at Wright State.
“This is the level where you see all your buddies, a lot of people jump from Double-A to the big leagues,” Gray said, “and it seems like you’re close. It makes you want to continue to keep going and keep pushing and working harder because you’re one phone call away from the big leagues, and it might not be with the Twins. You never know.”