The 6-foot-5, 195-pound sophomore right-handed pitcher committed to Ole Miss baseball earlier this week. There were options.
He visited for the Ole Miss-Arkansas series and had been on campus before for football games and in the past for baseball games. He had visited Mississippi State several times. He’d been to Southern Mississippi. Vanderbilt was showing interest as was and Tennessee.
His dad, Johnny, was a pitcher for Delta State and pitched in the Reds organization for five seasons, reaching AA.
But it was Ole Miss that won him over.
“Just the feeling, the atmosphere, everything at Ole Miss. I was in love with it,” Ray said.
It was definitely a family decision for the Rays.
“Me and my family sat down and we talked about it after we got the offer,” He said. “I just knew where I wanted to go.”
Initially they thought about waiting until after his sophomore season of high school baseball was over; that it might be better to do that.
“We actually wanted to wait until after the baseball season so I wouldn’t have any distractions and the (CBHS) team wouldn’t have any distractions,” Ray said. “We could focus on getting a state championship.”
But now that his decision has been made, he hopes the distractions actually do end.
“Now I’m focused on getting a state championship,” Ray said. “Now I don’t have to worry about colleges coming to see me anymore and performing for them. I can just worry about playing my game.”
Because he just felt there was no reason to wait any longer.
John Wesley Ray
“I knew where I wanted to go,” he said. “People could tell that things were on my mind. I just told my parents I wanted to go ahead and get it over with. Right when I set foot off that (Ole Miss) campus, I knew where I wanted to go to college.”
Ray has a fastball, a changeup, and a cutter so far. College coaches see a lot of success currently and a lot of potential for the future.
“They like that I’m 6-5, that I throw downhill, that my velocity is very good for my age,” said Ray, who will turn 18 on Dec. 6. “My cutter bites and cuts pretty good. I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from recruiters that I’ve talked to. I need to get one more pitch as an out pitch, but I’m not sure what that is yet.”
Last spring he was the third starter for CBHS as a ninth grader behind two seniors - Michael Gunn who now pitches at Arkansas and Jacob Moody who pitches for the Memphis Tigers.
“I got in there and worked hard and got that third spot,” Ray said of last season. “I just made the most of it.”
This year as a tenth grader, he’s the No. 1 pitcher. His ERA is under 1.00, and he’s having a solid season. This year he’s taken two games into the sixth inning as no-hitters. One was against a team from Utah ranked in the country’s top 25. The other was a team from Arkansas. He’s had four 10-plus strikeout games this year.
Last year Ray was named to the All-State Tournament team as CBHS won the state title in its classification in Tennessee. He was also named to the Perfect Game Underclassmen All-American Team.
This summer he has been invited to the Tournament of Stars in Cary, N.C., for a USA baseball tryout. He also has invites to the Area Code Games in Washington, D.C., and a Pro Showcase in New York with the Royals organization.
Pro baseball, already in the family with his dad’s past, could be in Ray’s future, either sooner or later. That is something he will deal with in due time.
“I will worry about that when the time comes,” he said.
As for college and choosing Ole Miss, Ray said it is impressive that Ole Miss pitchers are doing so well in the pros, like Lance Lynn and Drew Pomeranz. He knows there are a lot of Rebels in pro baseball. Right now there are seven in the major leagues. That currently leads Southeastern Conference programs.
“That was a big part of it,” Ray said. “When I went on my tour, there was a room where they had all the pictures of all the players in the major leagues. It was amazing to see how many pitchers they’ve taken to the next level and developed them into the pitchers that they are.”
Ray said he appreciates all the opportunities he has now and could have down the road.
“I’m blessed,” he said. “That’s the perfect word for it, with God and the abilities he gave me.”