SYRACUSE — Connor Grey has pitched in Triple-A before, but admittedly he’s never felt as close to the Big Leagues as he does now.
The 2012 Frewsburg graduate broke camp with the Syracuse Mets last week and is in line to start their fifth game of the season Saturday.
“I was focused on just improving myself and show them what I did in the offseason to show that I belong here,” Grey said Thursday morning from his apartment in the Salt City. “I wanted to force their hand to put me here.”
The New York Mets affiliate in the International League is opening its 2022 campaign with a six-game homestand against the Scranton Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, the affiliate of their Major League crosstown rival New York Yankees.
Scranton Wilkes-Barre won the first two games of the series before Thursday night’s game was rained out.
“They have a few top prospects here,” Grey said of the RailRiders. “Here they hit mistakes. That’s what they’ve done the first two nights.”
In Syracuse, Grey is reunited with former teammates Eric Orze, Mark Vientos, Colin Holderman and, maybe most importantly, catcher Nick Meyer.
“You always have some new faces,” the 27-year-old said, “but it’s nice to have a familiar face behind the plate who you are familiar with and who knows you.”
Grey joined the Mets organization last summer after spending a little over a month with the Chicago Dogs, an Independent League team that plays in the American Association.
After making a relief appearance with the Binghamton Rumble Ponies, Grey was assigned to Class-A Brooklyn where he made four starts, going 1-1 with a 3.22 earned run average. He struck out 25 and held opponents to a .182 batting average against in 22 1/3 innings.
The Mets then promoted him back to Binghamton where he finished 1-4 with a 4.55 ERA in seven appearances (five starts). He struck out 37 and held opponents to a .263 batting average before a bout with COVID-19 disrupted the Rumble Ponies’ season and prematurely ended Grey’s.
The organization thought enough of Grey to give him one of their six coveted spots in the Arizona Fall League, generally reserved for teams’ top prospects.
In six games, including three starts, for the Salt River Rapids, Grey went 1-2 with a 3.00 ERA. He struck out 17 and held opponents — some of the best prospects in the game — to a .214 batting average against.
“I think the goal was to pitch well there and that would kind of prove to myself that I belong in Triple-A and not Double-A,” Grey said. “You want to go out there and face top prospects, pitch well, and carry that momentum into spring training.
Grey did that in Port St. Lucie, and clearly impressed enough members of the Mets’ front office to earn a spot in Triple-A.
“It felt a little more like a normal spring, going to spring training and getting into the swing of things that way,” Grey said. “It’s nice breaking camp with a team instead of having to wait until May; not having to worry about having a job.”
In fact, on March 27, Grey was tasked with “backing up” the Major League starters if their pitch counts got too high during a Grapefruit League contest against the St. Louis Cardinals. Unfortunately, the Mets scheduled pitchers that afternoon were Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom so Grey wasn’t needed.
“It was tougher for them to send me over there because I’m a starter, so they didn’t want to mess with my schedule. Because of the shortened spring training, there weren’t a lot of innings to bring more guys over,” Grey said. “I wasn’t going to throw (behind Scherzer and deGrom), they just put me over there to meet people and show my face. … They told me to just enjoy the show.”
But once the health of deGrom and then Scherzer came into question last week, Grey’s name was one of two mentioned as possible replacements in the big-league rotation.
“Trades aren’t out of the question — though Mets are touchy about going over $300M in payroll,” New York Post baseball columnist Joel Sherman tweeted. “Immediate plan elevate (Tylor) Megill, (David) Peterson or (Trevor) Williams into rotation; hope the positive impressions this spring by Jose Butto and Connor Grey persist into minor league season to build SP depth.”
“I think that kind of gives me more fire because if they think that I’m that close, they liked what they saw in spring training,” Grey said of being mentioned in the tweet. “If I do well, they obviously see me as a (promotion candidate) to hopefully make my debut.”
Grey was drafted in the 20th round of the 2016 draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks and spent four years in the organization. Across stops in Missoula, Montana; Hillsboro, Oregon; Kane County, Illinois; Visalia, California; Reno, Nevada; and Jackson, Tennessee, Grey compiled a 27-17 record and struck out 324 in 369 innings. He threw the Kane County Cougars’ first-ever perfect game in September of 2017, and reached Triple-A with the Reno Aces in 2017 and 2019, but by May of 2020 with the coronavirus affecting all of Minor League Baseball, he found himself out of work.
Last spring, he decided Independent League baseball might be his best route back to affiliated ball and just six starts into his season he was rewarded when the Dogs transferred his contract to the Mets.
Now, the 2016 St. Bonaventure product is just one phone call away from achieving his dream.
“I’m really one call away. I’m right on the brink of it,” Grey said. “As they said to us the other day: ‘Always keep your phone on.’”