Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Emergence of Chris Sale

The White Sox season has fizzled down the stretch, and after being swept by the Twins to fall nine back, it's officially (unofficially) over. But that doesn't mean they don't have good things to look forward to in 2011. Perhaps the most exciting aspect to 2011 will be the performance of Chris Sale.

Drafted with the 13th overall pick in this years draft, Sale made just 11 relief appearances in the minors before being called up to the big club after striking out 19 in just 10 innings of work. He's got a body scouts love at 6'5" and at a wispy thin 170lbs, projects to fill out and perhaps add a little velocity to an already hot arm.

For now, Sale is essentially a two-pitch guy who works primarily off a fastball that has averaged 95.6mph and a frisbee slider at 81.4mph. The fastball doesn't have much sink, but he does generate good arm-side run. The slider is filthy. He throws it from the same 3/4 arm-slot that he does his fastball and the pitch has fantastic lateral and vertical movement. That, coupled with the speed differential between the slider and his fastball makes it a devastating offering, especially to lefties.

With only those two pitches in his arsenal at the moment, he's not a realistic option for the rotation - at least not yet. But the White Sox are insisting that he will be looked at as a starter in the future - which is good. I'm a big believer that relievers are, for all intents and purposes a dime-a-dozen, but electric arms with plus secondary stuff need to be given every chance to become starters where they can make the largest impact for an organization as possible.

To be an option out of the rotation he's going to need to develop a third pitch. He does throw a changeup, but at this point, it's a complete show-me offering and not a particularly good one at that. Developing that pitch will be vital in the future, because while the slider is great against lefties, righties will eventually key in on it. He'll need the changeup to keep right-handers off balance, and off his relatively flat fastball.

Beyond the raw stuff, the first thing that jumps out to everyone is the phenomenal K rate of 11.57/9IP. However, Sale has also been a ground ball machine, inducing ground balls on 51.4% of his balls in play. The last aspect of his FIP game that needs to be rounded out is his control - which is pretty rough still. That's neither surprising, nor of particular concern, after all the kid is in just his first season of professional baseball.

The White Sox and general manager Kenny Williams are known for promoting and pushing their best prospects aggressively - often bringing them to the Majors despite there being glaring holes in their games. Sale is no different in that regard, he's hardly a finished product. However it would be nice, for once, to see the Sox show the patience necessary to allow such a talented young arm to add some polish to his game. Let him develop his changeup and improve his control in the minors instead of needlessly burning through his arbitration clock with a pitching staff that shouldn't be in any immediate need of his services in 2011.

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