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06/06/11 11:15 PM ET

Hurler Gray excited to develop talents with A's

Club impressed with college junior's 'gumption and fortitude'

Sonny Gray knew his father wanted to see him accomplish two things in life.

"The first was to go to college and make the most of it," Gray said, "and the second thing was to play professional baseball."

The young right-handed hurler can put a check mark next to the first item. The second, meanwhile, is on the near horizon, as Gray was selected by the A's out of Vanderbilt University on Monday with the 18th overall selection in the First-Year Player Draft.

Unfortunately, Gray's father, Jesse, wasn't around to see his son get drafted, as he passed away from injuries sustained in a car accident when his son was a high school freshman. But that hasn't stopped Gray from sticking to the plan.

"He was a big part of my life, and I don't think I would be the athlete I am today without him," said Gray, who learned that the A's drafted him from his home in Tennessee, surrounded by family and close friends.

The 21-year-old, who just completed his junior season and is prepping for the NCAA Super Regionals, was 11-2 with a 2.01 ERA in 16 starts for the Commodores this year. He struck out 115 and walked just 39, while compiling a 1.04 WHIP, holding opponents to a .192 batting average and allowing just four home runs.

Coming out of high school in 2008, Gray dropped to the Cubs in the 27th round primarily because of his strong commitment to Vanderbilt. The young hurler has the talent to overcome his lack of size (5-foot-11, 200 pounds) and compares himself a bit to Tim Hudson and Roy Oswalt.

"He's a guy that we've seen for a number of years," A's scouting director Eric Kubota said. "He was a very high prospect out of high school, and we had a lot of interest in him at that time. We followed him throughout his three years in his college career. He's extremely decorated with very good stuff. We're thrilled here."

Gray, an aggressive pitcher early in the count who will take the quick outs, owns a power fastball that he can deliver at 92-95 mph and has the potential to reach up to 97. He also boasts a plus curveball for plenty swings and misses and locates a developing changeup well.

"Strength-wise, I think I attack hitters really well," Gray said. "I come in and try to give you my best stuff, and I think having that competitive spirit and that competitive mind serves you well on days you don't have your best stuff."

That competitiveness stems from his days with his dad, who coached Gray from ages 4 to 12. During that time, Gray lost just four games.

"We've gotten to know him personally for a number of years, and he just has incredible gumption and fortitude," Kubota said. "He's one of those kids who isn't backing out of any situation. He's not afraid of anything. He's going to go out and do everything he can on any given day to get you out."

Oakland's first-round selection continues a decade-long college trend while also fulfilling a lack of pitching depth in the Minors. Several A's arms have come out of the Draft, but most -- including the likes of Trevor Cahill and Tyson Ross -- have graduated to the Majors in recent seasons.

"We do not generally draft for need," Kubota said, "but I think you can always use more pitching."

The A's took hitters in the first round in each of the last three Drafts, trying to replenish a system that lacked impact offensive players. This year's Draft is particularly stocked with pitching, and Gray -- who will continue to be groomed as a starter -- is well aware of the arms that have graced the big league scene in Oakland.

"They have a great history of developing pitchers, and that's exciting," said Gray, who in high school idolized Tampa Bay hurler David Price during his Vanderbilt days.

The A's now look toward the 105th pick (third round) and 136th pick (fourth round). They relinquished their second-round choice to Tampa Bay when they signed Type A free-agent reliever Grant Balfour in the offseason.

Live coverage of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft resumes at 9 a.m. PT on Tuesday on MLB.com, where fans will receive exclusive coverage of Day 2 and 3, featuring a live pick-by-pick stream, expert commentary and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of every Draft-eligible player.

You can also keep up to date at Draft Central and by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.

Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Major Lee-ague, and follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.