Chris Sale has set the bar awfully high whoever the White Sox take with the third overall pick in Thursday's MLB Draft.
Case in point: Sale's dominant complete game effort against San Diego on Sunday, in which he allowed one run on two hits and struck out nine in the White Sox 4-1 win. Sale threw just 100 pitches as he faced one over the minimum in a game that barely took over two hours.
As Sale turned in another sparkling start, the White Sox have their sights set on landing another potential this week.
The White Sox have narrowed their draft search down to five pitchers and one position player, with North Carolina State left-hander Carlos Rodon and Texas high school right-hander Tyler Kolek projected to land on the South Side in Baseball America's last two mock drafts.
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There's always an inherent risk in drafting a pitcher, though, especially given the rise in development-delaying Tommy John procedures.
"I think we have to be really guarded about trying to play doctor or play God as far who's going to hurt, who isn't going to get hurt," White Sox director of amateur scouting Doug Laumann said Sunday. "We have to evaluate people on basically their ability. … But I made the example of the guy we're all here to watch today, Chris Sale. There were a lot of people that felt like with his body type and his arm action that he was going to get hurt."
That's why Sale represented a greater risk four years ago when the White Sox had the 13th pick in the 2010 Draft.
Sale's funky three-quarter mechanics scared some teams off, with a common projection that he'd wind up either hurt or in the bullpen. His price tag was high, too, so he wasn't even a sure bet to sign with whatever team drafted him.
With MLB Network cameras following their every move for "The Club," the White Sox went ahead and picked Sale. Management was ecstatic to draft a left-hander with the kind of elite repertoire Sale possessed, but actually bringing him into the fold was a different matter.
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"We didn’t want to make a bunch of videotape of us doing cartwheels and then all of a sudden when the thing airs, the kid didn’t sign," general manager Rick Hahn recalled.
Signability will again come into play for the White Sox with the No. 3 pick, with a finite number of dollars ($9.5 million) to spend on bonuses across the draft. A player like Rodon may command an over-slot bonus, thus draining funds to spend on the next 49 picks.
The goal, Hahn said, is to not only draft an impact player in the first round but put together a good crop of prospects, thus adding all-important depth to the farm system.
"Our focus isn’t going to be strictly on that third pick," Hahn said. "We want to get the best guy available at three but we also want to have the healthiest draft through the entire bonus pool."
That being said, the White Sox have a chance to get a franchise player with the third overall pick. Sale's developed into one of baseball's elite pitchers, the kind of guy who can turn things around whenever he makes a start -- as he did Sunday following sloppy losses Friday and Saturday.
"When you have guys like him you can’t go on very long losing streaks," manager Robin Ventura said.
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A dozen teams had a chance to take Chris Sale four years ago, and while Washington (Bryce Harper), Baltimore (Manny Machado) and New York (Matt Harvey) likely aren't too distraught over passing on him, others couldn't be blamed for kicking themselves a bit.
Sale heard all the hype four years ago, when Baseball America projected him to go fourth overall to Kansas City. It may easy for him to say it now as a two-time All-Star with a career ERA below three, but Sale said he wasn't disappointed to slip to No. 13.
"By no means was I upset with it, especially with the outcome," Sale said. "It's a great city, great team, coaching staff, front office, everything up and down is solid. I'm glad I got here."
The White Sox can only hope the player they take on Thursday works out as well as Sale has.