If ever there should be a poster boy for signing quickly after being drafted, Chris Sale is it.
Had the lefty out of Florida Gulf Coast University not signed on June 22 after the White Sox made him the No. 13 overall pick in 2010, he would not have made his professional debut in the Carolina League by July 2. Without that debut, he would not have been promoted two levels to Triple-A after four outings with Winston-Salem, thus ruling out a July 16 debut at the Minors' highest level.
If none of that occurred, there's no way the White Sox would've summoned him to the big leagues to make his Major League debut on August 6, just two months after he was drafted.
"During the season, I was always going, going, going, so I never really got to sit down and really think about what was going on," Sale said. "I was always going to the next place or playing. Now, [I can say] 'Wow, what a ride.' It was fun. This is what I wanted to do my whole entire life, so I finally got the opportunity to do it. I wouldn't trade it for the world."
"When I was in Winston-Salem, I was there for two weeks -- I think it was 11 days -- and I got called up to Triple-A," Sale recalled. "I was like, 'Man, that was pretty quick.' I didn't really know what was going on, so I just went with it.
"I was the new guy three different times [last] year. I was just trying to get a feel for everyone -- what they did, how they were, communicating with different people."
It obviously went well. Sale was closing games for the White Sox in the heat of a pennant race, and the 21-year-old didn't even flinch, recording four saves and a 1.93 ERA over 21 games. Sale hadn't relieved since his freshman year in college, but he's got a pretty simple philosophy when it comes to the change in roles.
"Pitching is pitching," Sale said. "This is what I say when people ask me if I would rather be a starter or a reliever. You still have to go out there and throw strikes and get outs. It was an adjustment, it was physically and mentally different. But I had a lot of fun with it."
That's a good thing, because the White Sox plan to keep him in that role for 2011. When last season was over, Chicago sent Sale home to get ready to start this year, and that's what he did in terms of his conditioning and throwing programs. But the current needs of the big league team come first, so Sale's return to a rotation is on hold -- at least for now.
"Whatever they want to do with me is going to be fine," Sale said. "I just want to pitch."
White Sox's Top 10 Prospects
1. Sale, LHP: Sale came in at No. 25 on MLB.com's Top 50 Prospects list and was ranked as the No. 6 left-handed pitching prospect in the game. The last two American League Rookies of the Year have been closers. Could Sale end up making it three in a row?
2. Brent Morel, 3B: More of a right-handed Wade Boggs type than a power hitter at the hot corner, Morel is ready to take over at third for the White Sox. He'll hit for average, as his .305 career mark shows, and he's an outstanding defender, one who could even play shortstop if needed.
3. Dayan Viciedo, 3B/OF: Nicknamed "The Tank" by Ozzie Guillen, Viciedo hit a 25 combined homers in 2010, and the White Sox would love to find a place to put his bat in their lineup. With Morel at third and first base/DH filled by veterans, he's giving the outfield a try and looked good early on. He's not terribly selective at the plate, but his ability to be a run-producing power threat is legit.
4. Eduardo Escobar, SS: He became more than just a good defensive shortstop prospect with a bit of a breakout in 2010, then kept it going with a very strong Arizona Fall League campaign. He can flat-out play shortstop with good range, hands and an excellent arm. So, if he can continue to show anything with the bat, he could turn into a very good all-around shortstop as he inches closer to Chicago.
WHEN WILL THEY ARRIVE?
6. Greg Infante, RHP: The move to the bullpen has been a good one for this young Venezuelan, as it allowed him to go from the Carolina League up to the big leagues over the course of the 2010 season. He adds velocity to his plus fastball in shorter stints and has a power curve to go with it. He's got closer-type stuff, especially if he can harness his command a bit and should help out the big league bullpen in 2011.
7. Brandon Short, OF: A Carolina League All-Star in 2010, Short set career highs in just about every offensive category. He finished second in the organization in average and fifth in RBIs. He's not a selective hitter, but he's driving the ball more. The move to Double-A should be a good challenge for him.
8. Trayce Thompson, OF: He's the son of former NBA player Mychal Thompson and has the athletic ability to prove it. He suffered through a rough first season, complete with struggles and injury. He has a way to go as a hitter, but he also has got raw power and some speed. He could end up as a toolsy right fielder, even if he has to repeat at Class A Kannapolis to start 2011.
9. Tyler Flowers, C: Just about everything went wrong for Flowers in 2010, putting his ascension as the White Sox's starting backstop on hold. He's made some adjustments to his swing to help turn things around. With the return of A.J. Pierzynski to the big league club, he'll go back to Triple-A Charlotte and prove he's ready to take over when needed.
10. Josh Phegley, C: There are those who see Phegley as having moved past Flowers, but he's yet to play more than 52 games in a season and it's not clear if he can handle the defensive rigors. He does have some offensive upside, and a full season should help him figure some things out.
Under the Radar
Charles Leesman, LHP: The Xavier product was an 11th-round Draft pick in 2008 and, after having a solid first full season in the South Atlantic League, he scuffled up a level last year. But after posting a 5.10 ERA in 17 starts for Winston-Salem, he responded when he moved up to Double-A, going 5-2 with a 2.69 ERA in 11 starts. He didn't throw well in the AFL, but it was his first time relieving and after throwing 148 1/3 innings. His '11 season could go a long way in determining what kind of prospect he truly is.
Addison Reed, RHP: Known as the guy who "replaced" Stephen Strasburg in the San Diego State rotation last spring, Reed is building a name for himself. The third-round pick was very effective in relief for Great Falls last summer and he closed for SDSU before stepping into the rotation. The White Sox will let him start for now, but he could get to Chicago very quickly if they decide to shorten him up.
Hitter of the Year -- Mitchell, OF
He shook off some of the rust in the AFL last fall. Now he'll show why he was a first-round pick in 2009. Mitchell will top the system in steals, hit for a decent average and even show some surprising power in his first full season.
Pitcher of the Year -- Reed
For the time being, Reed will show he should stay in a rotation, spending time at two levels while leading the organization in ERA and strikeouts.