Prep Baseball Report

Behind The Scout Card: Chris Sale

By Rob Sidwell
Florida Scouting Director

Since we’re on the subject of Florida high school players having good major league careers, another player comes to mind that I remember watching a lot as an amateur. Chris Sale was a tall, skinny and weak high school lefty from Lakeland HS, who, in 2007 was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the 21st round. I was working for the New York Mets that year and every time I saw Sale, his fastball was around the 85-88 mph range and he threw from a higher 3/4-arm slot. He was 6-foot-5, 170 pounds. I remember thinking he was a very projectable kid and he would throw a little harder in the future, but I had no idea at that time that he would become what he is. I turned him in low on my draft list and I really didn’t think he was mentally or physically ready to go out and play pro ball.

Apparently nobody else did either, because he ended up going to Florida Gulf Coast University, and I believe he didn’t even sign with them until late in his senior year.

Once he showed up on his college campus, he began to blossom into a power arm. As a freshman in college, he was a reliever where he saw his fastball start to run up to that 91-92 mph range. I saw him sparingly his first two years of college, but his junior year, which was his draft eligible year, I saw him quite a bit. Besides his stuff improving tremendously, I noticed that he had matured mentally as well. He was a starter now and had great mound presence. He controlled the game. His stuff was electric. He was certainly a different animal in 2010 than he was in 2007. His fastball was now touching 95 mph with plus life and plus command. His breaking stuff was above average and he commanded them both. His changeup was a plus pitch with the same late life as his fastball. He threw all four pitches for strikes and was a lot of fun to watch because he showed you everything you wanted to see, and they were usually pretty quick games. He was a bulldog competitor as well.

I remember seeing a few rare occasions where a runner would get to third base and you could see that he didn’t like that a whole lot. He would always dial it up a notch and add a couple miles per hour on the fastball for the next hitter. He is still to this day the easiest guy I ever scouted because he showed you everything you needed to see as a scout, every time out. Even when he didn’t have his best stuff, like the time he was pitching with food poisoning. He didn’t have his best stuff, but it was a conference game and he was the ace, and it was late in the year and they needed the win. His fastball was 88-91mph but he still dominated. He showed me a lot of character and competitiveness that outing. I mentioned before about talent being important, but makeup being the most important. Sale had both.

I was working with the San Diego Padres that year and Sale was the No. 1 player on my draft list that year. The No. 2 guy on my list was Manny Machado. I thought both of these players had a chance to become all-star type players, but Sale was just too easy to scout and so close to the big leagues. I put in my evaluation that I thought he could pitch in the big leagues within a year because every time I saw him, he looked like you could put him right in a big-league game and he wouldn’t miss a beat.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the Padres brass to agree with me. The new regime in San Diego that year came in with a new-age video scouting philosophy. They believed in the video camera more than the scout. If you broke Sale down on video, he did a lot of things wrong but his stuff was plus. He was a tall skinny guy, 6-foot-6, about 175 pounds. Not a real strong body, and people were concerned about his durability. His arm action wasn’t ideal and he had a low arm slot, so a lot of scouts thought he was automatically a reliever. I didn’t necessarily agree with that. I thought he could have played any role you wanted him to. I didn’t want to pigeon-hole him as either one because starters tend to have more value in the draft than relievers.

The reason those things are a concern is that a weak body with questionable arm action is more likely to break down, and is less likely to repeat his delivery, affecting his command. However, what I saw live—that you couldn’t see on video—was his competitive nature. How he hated to make a mistake, or give up a hit, or let a runner get to third base. The way he responded to those circumstances was beyond his years. He also repeated his delivery and had very good command. His durability was unquestionable. He held his stuff and velocity late in games, every time out. Those are the things that made it so easy to me.

Anyway, we passed on him with the No. 9 pick, and the White Sox took him at 13. Two months later Sale made his major-league debut and the White Sox get a four-time all-star pitcher, who this year broke the 107-year-old White Sox record for most strikeouts in a season—274.

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