PHOENIX -- Athletics third baseman Josh Donaldson has faced his share of big league pitching, but he probably wasn't ready for what he was about to see this early in spring training. A's pitching prospect Sonny Gray threw a couple pitches and then unleashed a wicked bender.
Behind the cage A's prospect Michael Taylor remarked, "That curve was dirty."
Gray, the A's first-round pick out of Vanderbilt college was just getting started. He threw 30 pitchers to a group of hitters that included Donaldson, Taylor, and Michael Choice -- and had them sufficiently baffled. Only Choice made solid contact, driving a ball to the opposite field.
"We definitely feel like Sonny Gray is a guy that no doubt will pitch in the big leagues," A's manager Bob Melvin said, "it's just a matter of when."
A's starting pitcher Jarrod Parker threw a similarly dominating session, as did Sean Doolittle. At this point in camp the pitchers are always ahead of the hitters. But there was something about Gray that garnered the most attention Thursday. He has a unique arsenal, one that includes four- and two-seam fastballs, a change-up and two different curveballs.
"I threw both (curveballs), I threw a few slower ones," Gray said. "I mixed them both in there today."
Gray takes the mound Monday in Cactus League action. He is scheduled to throw after Andrew Werner. It seems each time out his manager finds another thing he likes about him, a sign that he is learning and progressing.
"He seems like he is more comfortable now, at times he'll rush a little bit on the mound," Melvin said. "It seems like he's staying back a little better. We're really getting a good luck at his stuff. When he throws the ball over the plate, he's successful."
Melvin likened Gray's spring this season to Parker's last year. The team felt comfortable with Tommy Milone in the rotation to start the season based on his mechanics and how he pitches. Parker started the season in Triple-A then quickly became the A's best pitcher -- eventually starting Game 1 of the playoffs.
"You really want to make sure a guy like Sonny is ready," Melvin said. "We had quite a few guys last year that we got here pretty quickly, yet with Jarrod we felt like we needed a little bit more time. He had four starts in Triple-A then he came up and did what he did. So our organization does a pretty good job of identifying when guys are ready."
Gray was 6-9 with a 4.14 ERA in 26 starts at Double-A Midland last season. He finished the year in Sacramento where he started one game, allowing four runs in four innings. By his own admission he had an up-and-down season last year. He worked hard this offseason to position himself to possibly break into the majors in 2013. It also helps that he is in his second big league camp and has more experience.
"I was more prepared coming into camp than I was last year," Gray said. "I just hope to continue to do what I can do and every time I get on the mound to continue to get better."
The A's starting rotation is deep, with Parker, Milone, Brett Anderson, Bartolo Colon, A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily positioned as the frontrunners to earn spots in the rotation. Depth is key for the A's, however, and it may not be too long before Gray gets the call. Like Melvin said, it's only a matter of time.