It took less than a minute for the Chris Sale comparisons to start flying in.
Just moments after the White Sox drafted Tennessee left-handed pitcher Garrett Crochet at No. 11 overall, ESPN, MLB Network and yes, Twitter, all mentioned the name Chris Sale.
Heck, even Crochet mentioned Chris Sale, although, in fairness, he was asked about him.
“I see the similarities and actually when I was developing my slider, I tried to shape it in the same way that his is,” Crochet said Wednesday night. “He was definitely a mentor for me that I kind of viewed from social media platforms and just watching as he played.”
The comparisons make sense. Crochet is 6-6, can hit 100 miles per hour with his fastball and has a wipeout slider. Chris Sale is 6-6 and, well, can do all that with a nasty changeup he perfected at the big-league level.
Stuff-wise, they’re similar. Developmentally, they could be similar too.
“This is what they did with Chris Sale in 2010,” MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis said on MLB Network immediately following the selection of Crochet. “They drafted him and they said, ‘Look, if you pitch well in the minors, you can come contribute in a pennant race.’ And he did that. Chris Sale began his career as a reliever before going to a starter. The White Sox are looking to contend this year. I don’t see why you couldn’t do that.”
Sale barely pitched in the minors. He appeared in four games for Single-A Winston Salem and seven for Triple-A Charlotte. He was in Chicago by Aug. 4, 2010 and made 21 appearances for the White Sox as a rookie, posting a 1.93 ERA.
Those would be lofty expectations for Crochet, but the developmental process could be similar. One of the knocks on the Tennessee lefty is that he only made 36 appearances and 13 starts in college partially due to injuries and because COVID-19 essentially wiped out the Volunteers’ season this year. It’s possible that worked in the White Sox’s favor, as an impressive 2020 college campaign may have pushed Crochet into the top 10. With a fastball and slider that can play in the majors quickly, the White Sox could decide to use him in the bullpen immediately before the changeup gets major-league ready. Sale pitched out of the bullpen in 2010 and 2011 before transitioning to the rotation in 2012, the same year his changeup took off.
“If they want me to come through the bullpen, that's something I would do,” Crochet said. “I've always envisioned myself as a starter and if I were to pull the Chris Sale maneuver and work up as a reliever and then turn into a starter, if that's what the White Sox want me to do to help the team, that's what I'll do.”
White Sox director of amateur scouting Mike Shirley made it clear that they view Crochet as a future starter. He even went as far as to say that Crochet’s ceiling is a No. 3 starter but added “there’s some hopes that he’s more than that.” Still, the White Sox have a track record of developing pitchers in the major league bullpen before turning them into starters. Sale isn’t the only example, as that was also their approach for Mark Buehrle and Carlos Rodon.
“I think you watch clips during the draft tonight, the pitch mix is going to tell you he has Major League stuff,” Shirley said. “He’ll come in his own time frame. But do I think he could be there soon? Yes, that is possible. But that story is to be told and we’ll see how his environment continues to unfold.”
As it is, the third pitch might not be that far off.
“I had guys who saw him in fall ball, where his stuff really jumped a lot, and they thought they saw a well above-average changeup at times in the fall,” Callis said. “I don’t think we saw it in the one outing this spring because it was just a brief outing, but this guy does have three pitches. I think you do exactly what you did with Chris Sale, you think about using him as a reliever this year and you worry about developing him as a starter in the future.”
Crochet confirmed the changeup is a relatively new weapon for him.
“That was something I never really had worked on until summer before junior year, but I feel like it was really was starting to come around because I was able to gain feel for it and kind of throw it in scrimmages and get more consistent with it, get more reps with it, “ he said. “It's definitely, I believe, going to be a plus pitch for me in the future.”
Of course, there are major variables to consider. If there is no minor league season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, how do you get Crochet some work this year? In Sale’s case, he had already pitched a college season in 2010 before joining the White Sox. Crochet made one start this year before his season was wiped out.
If there is a 20-man taxi squad that accommodates a 30-man roster – as has been discussed – then we may get an early tip on the White Sox’s plans for Crochet. If he’s put on that squad, there’s a chance Crochet contributes to the bullpen this year. If not, the White Sox might be relying on an extended Arizona Fall League season.
Either way, everyone involved hopes Crochet is pitching in Chicago sooner rather than later.
“I told Garrett Crochet it’s an outstanding piece of your life to be compared to Chris Sale, but please proceed as being Garrett Crochet,” Shirley said. “Chris Sale has been a great member of the White Sox as all of our fans know. If that comes to fruition, I think we’ll all be super excited.”Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.