Sunday, May 23, 2010

2010 Draft: Chris Sale, lhp

Chris Sale is one of the top southpaw pitching prospects in the 2010 draft and one who has definitely caught my eye as an intriguing prospect. He is currently a college junior and pitches for Florida Gulf Coast, where he has posted dominating numbers this year.

Sale stands 6-5 and tips the scales at 175 lbs. He's got a tall, lean, lanky body type that brings to mind former UNC Tarheel and current Florida Marlin farmhand Andrew Miller. Of course, the very use of Andrew Miller as a comparable has some negative connotations, but while they have similar body types, they are different pitchers. Sale has very good command, a problem which has plagued Miller throughout his career. Additionally, Sale has a very good mound presence and feel for pitching, which should help his offerings play up. Like Miller, Sale's long limbs and height give him the potential to throw on a downward plane, though Sale's low three-quarter arm slot limits his ability to do so. Sale's height and build also give him room for additional physical projection, which could result in increased velocity when he adds more muscle to his frame.

As a junior at FGC, Sale has pitched 96 innings over 16 appearances, including 14 starts, during which he has posted a 1.97 ERA, a 0.93 WHIP, a masterful 135/12 K/BB ratio, and a .217 batting average against. In his 96 innings, Sale has allowed only 14 extra base hits.

Sale sits in the 90-93 range with the fastball and gets a nice sinking action that induces groundballs at a very good rate. His lower arm slot gives his breaking ball more of a sweeping action to it, which could make it tough on lefties. Still, his curveball needs work to become an effective pitch in the professional ranks. Perhaps his best pitch is his changeup, which ranks as one of the best in the draft. And, I do so love a plus changeup.

Here is a look at him in action:

As for Sale's mechanics, I find them to be fundamentally sound. Some question his arm action and find it to have a bit too much snap to it, but I don't see any significant red-flags. He keeps his pitching elbow in fairly good position relative to the shoulder. His elbow does get a tick higher than his shoulder, which isn't normally ideal, but I don't view it as being a problem simply because his arm slot is so much lower. The problem with the high back elbow is that it results in a stressful lasso like motion to get the arm up in a position to throw. However, with the lower arm slot, Sale doesn't need or use a lasso like motion to get into throwing position. So, I would argue that his lower arm slot effectively offsets the higher back elbow.

Additionally, from purely a pitching mechanics point of view, the lower arm slot is a bit more natural than a traditional over the top motion. It also gives him a bit more natural movement on his pitches. Also, despite his height, the timing on his pitching arm is good, as it's up in throwing position at the proper time and doesn't lag behind in his delivery. Sale also maintains good body control throughout the delivery and stays in balance on his follow-through.

While I don't dislike the arm action, I would like to see him incorporate more of his lower body into his delivery by improving his push off the rubber and drive to the plate. As of now, he is a bit inefficient, as he doesn't effectively harness the potential energy created by his leg kick. He unpacks his leg kick a bit prematurely before driving to the plate, costing him additional energy that could be imparted on the ball and forcing his arm to work a bit harder to generate the velocity. If he can throw more effectively with his entire body, he'll reduce additional stress on his pitching arm.

As for performance questions, the lower arm slot and questionable breaking ball raise questions about his ability to work effectively to righthanded hitters. Right now, his two best pitches are his his sinking fastball and plus change-up, despite good movement both are still straight pitches. He'll need a true breaking pitch to keep the hitters honest by changing the eye level.

Overall, Sale is a very impressive pitching prospect and would likely be a steal for the Reds with the 12th overall pick. If he maxes out on his projection, then he could have 3 plus pitches, good command, and a good feel for pitching. Unfortunately, he is likely to be off the board by the time the Reds are on the board, but he's definitely a prospect on my radar. Hopefully, he's on the Reds' radar as well.


  1. of all the guys that could go in that range he is the only one i would be happy getting. there are a few that i would be ok with but its not a very deep draft

  2. Smitty,

    Yeah, I'm just starting to get geared up for the draft, but Chris Sale is the first guy to jump out at me.

    I really like the combination of "pitchability," mechanics, and stuff. I love the changeup and the good velocity, especially when paired with above average-to-plus command.

    I have more research to do, but for now I'd be ecstatic to see him fall to the Reds at #12.

    Thanks for the comment!