Continuing our look at the Mets’ options with the seventh overall pick in June’s amateur draft, today we’ll take a look at FGCU southpaw Chris Sale.
School: Florida Gulf Coast
Weight: 175 lbs.
What He Brings
The most obvious thing Chris Sale brings is size. He’s a very lanky six-six, so he may have more in the way of projection than your average college lefty. As things are now, he has above average velocity, armed with a 90-94 mph fastball. A low three-quarters arm slot combined with the downward plane his height already allows means that heater also really dives. The height and the sinker alone make Sale look like a starting pitcher.
He combines that sinking heater with some fantastic control. He walks very few batters, as that outstanding 10:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio suggests. He has good command over all three of his pitches, and that’s the primary reason he’s figuring to go somewhere in the first round.
The other big plus is that he has a good changeup that he can use to help neutralize right-handed hitters. It’s really his best offspeed pitch, and he complements that with a sweeping slider that can be very effective against those on the left side of the plate. With three average or better offerings his competition hasn’t stood a chance.
Finally, on the more intangible side, scouts rave about his mound presence. Judging from all those strikeouts and how few walks he’s permitted, he looks like a guy who will go right after hitters. Poise counts for something.
What He Doesn’t Bring
Great sinker, three pitches, good size, bulldog on the mound. What’s the catch? Unfortunately, Sale’s got a flaw or two.
First of all, while those numbers are impressive anywhere, he’s pitching at a small school against small competition. You’ve got to take them with at least one grain of salt. Furthermore, he’s pitching at a small school because he wasn’t sought after as a high schooler. He’s probably just a late bloomer, but when you’re trying to find flukes amidst a sea of small sample sizes, you need to look at all the history you can find.
Then there’s that low three-quarters arm slot. It always poses a problems for scouts and player development personnel. While it does add natural sink to a pitcher’s fastball, it doesn’t easily facilitate the development of offspeed pitches, particularly the curve, where a pitcher needs to get on top of the ball to properly snap it down. It also tends to inhibit the development of the changeup, though that thankfully hasn’t been the case with Sale. Raise his arm slot and you risk losing the sinker. Keep it where it is, and he’s stuck with the slider as his best breaking pitch. While the slider isn’t bad, it’s mostly a one-plane pitch that probably won’t get righties out with any consistency.
Then there are his mechanics. He takes a nice stride, but his tempo is slow, he brings his elbow way over his throwing shoulder—creating the dreaded "inverted W"—and he tends to snap his gloveside downward on his follow-through, which can cause issues. These things may lead to shoulder issues, especially for a guy as lanky as he is.
So we’re left with a guy whose shoulder might be fragile and who might have difficulty getting righties out at the next level. Sounds like a reliever to me.
OK, so we have a guy who looks like a starting pitcher. Throws a heavy sinker with good velocity, prototypical starter’s height. Good changeup. He has projection left. But then he’s got little in the way of a breaking pitch, and his arm might be due for an injury. Half of him sounds like a starter, the other half like a reliever.
The seventh pick is a chance to bring in a guy who can really be an impact player for your team for six years, more if you can sign him to a team-friendly deal. And if Sale is as good as he looks, he’s certainly an impact player, a guy you might wind up kicking yourself over not selecting. But there are several reasons why he might not be that impact player, and I’d rather let somebody else take the gamble. There are plenty of other prospects available at seven, and I’m willing to kick myself later on if I can find someone who’s at least a little safer.