White Sox officials couldn’t celebrate too enthusiastically when they selected Chris Sale with their first-round pick five years ago.
Sale, the lanky left-hander from Florida Gulf Coast, was projected by Baseball America to be picked fourth overall by Kansas City in 2010. He was on the White Sox radar, but the feeling in the club’s draft room was that he wouldn’t fall out of the Top 10. The White Sox had the No. 13 pick in that year's MLB Draft.
“We certainly expected him to be gone when we started off that day and in the days leading up,” general manager Rick Hahn recalled. “He was a guy who our scouts and the people in the room pointed to as someone who could certainly help us at the big league level soon but in all probability was not going to be available to us.”
Under normal circumstances, when Sale fell to the White Sox, it would’ve led to plenty of high fives and cheers. But MLB Network cameras were following the White Sox around that summer for the TV show “The Club,” and were in the team’s draft room when Sale was picked.
Last week, Hahn — then the team’s assistant GM — recalled the muted reaction.
“When we made the selection of Chris we were all excited that we got Chris but at the same time, there were some signability concerns so there was at least a chance that he wasn’t going to sign,” Hahn explained. “There was all this footage of our exuberance and (if he didn’t sign) it was then going to be shown as the kid goes back to school. We found ourselves with the cameras in the room a little bit reserved in terms of all our excitement level because we didn’t want to look too foolish if things wound up going south.”
Those concerns were short-lived. The White Sox and Sale quickly agreed to terms, and less than two months later, he made his major league debut as a reliever in Baltimore. Two years later, Sale was in the White Sox rotation and earned his first of three All-Star appearances (it could very well be four this year).
Five years removed from the 2010 draft, no player selected that year has been worth more WAR than Sale (24.4) — and that’s a draft class that includes, among others, Bryce Harper (14.4 WAR), Manny Machado (12.6 WAR) Matt Harvey (8.6 WAR) and teammate Adam Eaton (6.0 WAR). Only five White Sox first-round picks have been worth more WAR in their career than Sale: Frank Thomas (73.7), Robin Ventura (56.0), Harold Baines (38.5), Alex Fernandez (28.9) and Jack McDowell (28.2).
Since 2000, only Clayton Kershaw (42.3 WAR), Justin Verlander (41.4 WAR), Jered Weaver (36.7 WAR), Adam Wainwright (36.4 WAR) and David Price (24.6 WAR) have amassed more value than Sale among first-round pick pitchers. The second-highest WAR totaled by a player drafted in 2010 or later is Harper at 14.4.
Entering his start Monday night against Houston, Sale has a 2.81 ERA with 816 strikeouts in 740 2/3 major league innings. So while the White Sox weren’t able to celebrate immediately after drafting him, they’ve done plenty since.
“We were able to speak to him directly fairly quickly and his dad and the agent,” Hahn said. “We worked something out fairly quickly and it worked out okay since then."