KANSAS CITY -- Chris Sale is barely two years removed from when he was made a first-round draft pick in baseballs 2010 amateur draft.
Hes one of only four first-round selections from the June 2010 draft to have already reached the big leagues.
Despite his tender age, Sale, 23, has not only made the transition from the bullpen to frontline starting pitcher, the White Sox left-hander was a legitimate candidate to start Tuesdays All-Star Game for the American League. Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander will instead start Tuesdays game, AL manager Ron Washington announced at Mondays All-Star Game press conference.
The announcement didnt slow the praise heaped upon Sale by his AL teammates, several of whom compared him with Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson.
Hes pretty unique, Texas Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler said. Hes not as tall and he doesnt really have the haircut that Randy had, but he kind of slings it the same way and has pretty good stuff.
After he made 79 relief appearances in parts of two seasons, Sale, who debuted on Aug. 6, 2010, has made a pretty good transition into the White Sox starting rotation.
Sales only blip this season was a scare in early May, which resulted in a precautionary MRI on his left elbow and a brief return to the bullpen.
But Sale has been otherwise brilliant in his first season as a starter. He is 10-2 with a 2.19 ERA in 16 games (15 starts).
This is the stuff you dont ever think about, Sale said. You want to go out there and help your team win. This is stuff you dont ever see yourself doing. Im just fortunate to be sitting here and Im thankful for that opportunity I got. I guess (the rapid rise) does get kind of crazy, but I try not to look too far into it.
Hitters do their best not to think about Sales stuff.
With a fastball that averages 93 mph and a slider capable of fooling hitters on both sides of the plate, not to mention his wiry 6-foot-6, 180-pound frame, which adds deception to his delivery, Sale is adequately armed to face major league hitters.
Ive had many left-handers tell me he has the best left-hand slider period, first baseman Paul Konerko said. And hell buckle right-handers with sliders, which is hard to even picture how that happens. You see guys right-handed and the ball comes out of his hand high and away, they actually freeze when it comes down. You dont see too many guys in the game do that. You see Verlander do it with his curveball to lefties. Its pretty amazing.
Sales statistics tell an equally remarkable tale.
His .197 batting average against ranks fourth among major league pitchers while his 2.19 ERA and 0.95 WHIP rank third. Sale also has yielded the fourth fewest homers in the majors (five).
Konerko thinks the jaw-dropping aspect to the tale isnt Sales ascent, though he agrees that aspect is impressive, but rather how easily the left-hander has handled the transition from the bullpen to the rotation.
He was throwing 96-to-100 mph last year, Konerko said. I know he can still do that. But you cant do that as a starter. Just to try to change the way he was throwing the ball for the whole year last year and then to come out this year and say Now Im going to have to pitch a little more. Im going to have more baserunners. Im going to face more right-handers because Im not going to always get the lefty matchups I got out of the pen -- all that stuff. To process that at his age and his experience and deal with it is pretty amazing.
Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer is also impressed by Sale and has drawn the comparison between him and Johnson, who stood 6-feet-10-inches and won 303 games.
Mauer also has already seen enough of Sale to know hed prefer to see less of him.
Its tough, Mauer said. I was able to face Randy a couple of times before he retired. (Sale) has a great angle coming in and hes got great movement on his pitches.
You could definitely tell. Hes got great stuff. A great arm. I kind of wish he was in a different division.