One year ago tomorrow, Chris Sale nervously awaited word on where he would begin his professional career. The Florida Gulf Coast left-hander didn’t have to wait long to find out, as the White Sox called his name with the 13th overall pick of the amateur draft. A mere two months later he became the first player in his draft class to reach the big leagues, debuting on August 6 and going on to log four saves and a 1.93 ERA in 21 appearances. The 22-year-old native of Lakeland, Florida sat down to talk about the whirlwind experience of Draft Day, and the process that surrounds it.
David Laurila: You were drafted out of high school, by the Rockies in 2007, but didn’t sign. Why?
Chris Sale: I had a lot more to learn. Both physically and mentally, I just wasn’t mature enough to go out on my own and start living my own life. I really liked the school that I was going to, and felt that it was a better opportunity than starting my professional career. It was a big decision. I talked it over with my family, and my coaches, and everyone came to the same decision, which was that three or four years of college would be better than starting right then and there.
DL: How different was the scouting process the second time around?
CS: It was more than a little different. There was a lot of interaction with scouts, including the higher ups like cross checkers and people like that. There were more scouts showing up for outings when I pitched, so I felt a little more pressure my second time around. At the same time, I really tried not to pay much attention to it.
It’s one of those things where you notice they’re there, you see them, but you just go out and do your job. The scouts have a job to do; it’s their job to come and see you play, and how you act under pressure. I just went out and tried to pitch my game.
DL: Were some scouts more aggressive in their approach than others?
CS: All of the scouts were awesome. The ones I interacted with were great guys. None of them really sat down and drilled me, or asked 150 questions, trying to dig down deep. It was actually kind of a fun process. I learned a lot of history about different teams and how they run their ball clubs. It was nice meeting new people in the game, too.
DL: Did teams have you take psychological exams?
CS: Oh yeah, all the time. That was one of the main things they would have you do. They would give you this packet, and there would be about 180 questions on this thing, and it would take a couple of hours to fill out. The questions were anywhere from colors to shapes, and seeing what you would do in certain situations. I guess they wanted to make sure you were making the right choices, and things like that.
DL: What was it like dealing with prospective agents?
CS: Actually, I had an agent in high school. My dad helped me out with that one, and [the agent] helped me through the process in college. I had some guys, especially when I went out to the Cape Cod League, take me out to lunch, but I had already picked who my agent was going to be. I told everyone that. Most of them were pretty understanding, but there were still some out there who were kind of pushing the issue. I let them know that was who I was sticking with.
DL: When did he formally become your agent, as opposed to being an advisor?
CS: The only reason you can’t call them an agent is because of the NCAA, so I guess it’s after you get drafted and sign your contract. I’m not exactly sure on the specifics of that rule, but I know that the NCAA is pretty strict on their policies, and you have to respect that. I still had eligibility left when I got drafted.
DL: When did signabilty questions become the primary focus of scouts?
CS: I got a lot of phone calls the week of the draft. Actually, I got a few phone calls five minutes before it started. It was kind of a hectic time and emotions were going everywhere. I was honestly pretty nervous. I wasn’t nervous at all until about 10 minutes before it started, but then, all of a sudden, I was a wreck.
DL: Which teams were most likely to draft you?
CS: I really didn’t know. All I knew was that whichever team liked me the most was going to grab me. I wasn’t hoping for, or expecting, any one team to pick me. I was just waiting around for when my name got called.
DL: When that happened, did you get a call from the White Sox or did you see it on TV?
CS: They actually called me a few minutes afterwards, and I think I might have missed a couple of phone calls from them, too, because I had a bunch of friends and family with me. We were watching the draft from my grandparents’ house, on the MLB network, and that’s where I heard it first.
DL: What happens once your name has been called?
CS: You just sort of sit around and wait for things to happen. On Day One, I talked to my agent about wanting to sign early, because I didn’t want to be one of those guys who wastes the whole summer, wanting to find a number that sounds just right. Basically, I was waiting for people to start talking, and negotiating, and all of that behind-the-scenes stuff.
How it works is that the team, and your agent, figure out what a good price is, and you go from there. Then, once you reach an agreement, it’s time to go.
DL; When and where did you sign the actual contract?
CS: I flew up to Chicago when they were playing the Braves. I went up there, signed it, threw out the first pitch, got to walk around the locker room and see the field, and meet some of the guys. It was a great day, a really fun time. It was really special, just coming up to Chicago and kind of seeing everything.
DL: You also needed to get drug tested and take a physical.
CS: Yes. I got drug tested a couple of times in college, and again when I went to Chicago to sign. You also do your physical, making sure that everything is all right, your arm, your shoulder, all of your bones, ligaments and muscles. Wherever they send you for tests, that’s where you go.
DL: How long did you expect to be in the minor leagues before getting called up?
CS: Two days after signing, I went to Winston-Salem, which is where our high-A affiliate is. That’s where I started my professional career, and when I went there I was just preparing myself to play for that team. I wanted to hopefully make a good impression, so I really just tried to be low-key and not make a big scene by walking in and acting important, or anything like that. I went about my business. There were some really great guys in that clubhouse, too. That was something I really liked about the process, the fact that everywhere I went my teammates, and the managers and coaches, were great.
In the grand scheme of things, your goal is to get to the big leagues, and I was very fortunate to be in the situation I was in. I’m very thankful that they put that much trust in me and did exactly what they told me.
DL: Does draft day seem like a long time ago, or more like it was just yesterday?
CS: A lot of things have happened in one year, that’s for sure. It’s definitely crazy to think that one year ago I was sitting there waiting for that phone call, or waiting for that draft pick to go up. Yeah, it definitely went fast. But it was awesome from Day One. From then to here, it’s something I’ll never forget and wouldn’t trade for anything.
DL: Do you have any advice for the guys who are going to hear their names called on Monday?
CS: Try to control your breathing, man. It will get to you. It’s crazy; it’s one of those things that is an opportunity of a lifetime. You’re getting to start your professional career, playing the game you love to play. So be smart and have fun. That’s the main thing, because if you’re not having fun, why are you playing? Wherever you go, and whenever you get there, work hard and stay focused, because you have a shot at getting to the big leagues. It kind of starts on Draft Day.