Rays Prospect Profile: #16 Josh Sale

After a taking a break for the Holidays, we continue the Rays 2012 Top 50 Prospect Shuffle. Today we look at outfielder Josh Sale who comes in at #16 in our rankings. He was the Rays' first pick in the 2010 draft and got his first taste of pro ball at Princeton in 2011. Inside we have a full scouting report, analysis of his 2011 season and a look at what his future may be in 2012 and beyond.

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Josh Sale

Position: Outfielder
Bats: Left
Throws: Right
Height: 6'0"
Weight: 215 lb.
Born: 7/5/1991 in Seattle, WA
Age: 20
High School: Bishop Blanchet H.S. (Seattle, WA)
Acquired: Drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 1st Round (17th) of the 2010 June Amateur Draft
Signed For: $1,620,000

Player Background

Sale's father was a drug-free power lifter in the 1970's and has had a tremendous influence on his son. Sale has inherited his Dad's gym-rat mentality and love for working out. In high school Sale could bench 365 lbs. and squat 540 lbs. thanks to a power-lifting program that he was put on at the age of eight by his Dad. Coming out of high school perhaps no player in the 2010 draft could boast Sale's raw power (except Bryce Harper) and physical physique.

He was named as an Aflac All-American his junior season after hitting .460 with 13 home runs and 49 runs batted in. After hitting .520 as a senior, Sale went into the 2010 draft about as highly touted as a prospect can possibly be. Scouts drooled over his power potential, plate discipline and work ethic. He was named the best corner outfielder and best high school power hitter in the draft by Baseball America. Being from the same area in Washington state as current Blue Jays outfielder Travis Snider and also possessing similar power and bat speed, the comparisons to Snider began to start immediately.

The Rays scouted Sale heavily prior to the 2010 draft and were very excited when Sale was still available at pick #17. Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman raved about him after the draft saying:

"He's got an uncanny feel for the mechanics of his swing, what goes into being a successful hitter. With most high-school guys that we draft, it's a process for us at the player-development side to educate them on that and he's coming in extremely advanced on that front. We feel very good about the fact that he'll be able to reach his max potential, because of who he is, the makeup, the work ethic and we are thrilled to get him where we did."

Early in his youth Sale was an exceptional golfer and by the age of 11 he had a single digit handicap and had made a hole-in-one. He is a self-described quirky guy who loves chicken and eats it every day. (Wade Boggs anyone?) He is of Samoan heritage and is heavily-inked, displaying several tribal tattoos and his mother's favorite Bible verse from Proverbs on his body.

Sale signed late and did not play professionally in 2010. He began his Rays' career in the Appalachian League for the Rays' rookie level affiliate Princeton in 2011 after being named the Rays' #6 prospect by Baseball America prior to the start of the season.

2011 Performance

At first glance Sale's pro debut appears to be a disappointment. However, it is important to point out that he was reportedly suffering from a wrist injury and was also undergoing adjustments to his swing mechanics. Those adjustments seemed to be paying off late in the season, because in his last 10 games for Princeton he hit .323/.389/.516.

Alex Nelson of the Met's blog Amazin' Avenue summed up some of the issues with Sale's swing in a 2010 pre-draft piece:

"The other big question concerns his swing. His mechanics are unorthodox. He points his feet inward which robs him of a little balance, and as the ball approaches, he really winds up his swing. This has two adverse effects. First, he draws his bat backward, adding quite a bit of length to what would otherwise be a decent swing path. And second, he bars his right arm, which will hinder his ability to make adjustments mid-swing. He might not be able to handle good breaking balls as a result. The other problem is that he tends to jump out of his low squat into his stride, leaking some of the power in his swing, and de-synchronizing his torso and hip rotation. More often than not, his power is just brute force to the pull side. He also tends to hit the ball way out in front of his body, and he'll need to trust his natural bat speed a little more. Fixing these things might not be easy, and I think at the very least he'll need to introduce a better timing mechanism to get his swing better coordinated."

I personally have not seen Sale play live, but he will be a player that I will be looking at very closely during Spring Training. I intend to give a scouting report of my own then and hope to report how his swing has changed since last season.

For the season Sale hit .210 with 18 extra base-hits in 214 at bats. Sale had struggles making good consistent contact whiffing 41 times, and according to some excellent research by FreeZorilla of DraysBay.com on Sale's batted ball profile, his ground ball and infield pop fly percentages were not good either.

Still many prospect hounds and Rays' fans alike have been quick to call Sale's 2011 season an utter disappointment. This is an unfair assessment given his age, experience, lack of true sample size and the above mentioned issues that were ongoing last year.

Scouting Report

The scouting reports on Sale all read pretty much the same way: Advanced hit tool with good pitch recognition and selectivity, plus-plus power, below-average speed, average arm and fielding ability, plus make-up. A workout warrior who is extremely passionate about the game and is easily coachable.

A 2010 pre-draft video from MLB.com sums up Sale's game very well:

Baseball Prospect Report also gave this scouting report prior to the 2010 draft:

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: Low center of gravity, wide hips and thighs, barrel chest and broad shoulders, strong forearms, hands and wrists.

STRENGTHS: Plus, plus raw left-handed power. Strong hands, throws bat head, gets arms extended, drives through ball. Aggressive cut, concept of plate discipline and strike zone. Raw power to RF and CF, occasional power to LF now but should develop power to all fields. Should be average ML hitter, will take some strikeouts, but will be strong enough to put hard pitches in play.

WEAKNESSES: Below-average athleticism on ML scale, below-average arm and runner. Future position is a question, would like to try him at catcher.

SUMMARY: Willie Stargell-like body type with similar power. Strong hands give him ability to continue becoming better hitter as pro. Needs to condition and watch body in order to field a position as everyday ML player; definite LHH power for 1B, rare guy with this body type whose power will play. Needs to make sure other tools improve so he doesn't make himself too one-dimensional too soon.

GRADES (Present/Future):
Power 40/70
Hit 30/50
Run 40/40
Arm 40/40
Field 30/50

Adjusted Overall Future Potential: 56

This scouting report is interesting because of the suggestion that Sale be tried as a catcher. While he certainly has the body type of a backstop, I'm not sure his arm is strong enough to play consistently there. Besides at this point, it seems like Sale has enough work to do on his swing without having to learn an entirely new position. In fairness though, this scouting report was given while Sale was still in high school and it nonetheless gives a good assessment of his strengths and weaknesses as a player.

Sale spoke in length about his approach to hitting in a 2010 Q & A with Scout.com's Kevin Levine-Flandrup:

"There are a couple of the very core things to our hitting philosophy. First of all you have to have a strong base. You have to find out where you're comfortable in your legs in terms of height and width of your stance. Then you have to find out where your hands are comfortable and where they start. From there, for my swing, we initiate up a little bit with my hands from where they start, just to get that angle down to the ball, to swing along a plane. We're not thinking too contact, we're thinking through contact, we're thinking extension; we really want to get the barrel-head going on one plane to the ball and then through it. After the ball we really want to extend those hands, really extend that back arm, and use a two-handed finish. We don't like the one-hand finish, I mean I use it a lot, but I train myself in the cage to use two hands to make sure I'm getting all the power out of my swing that I possibly can. Another extremely vital thing to anybody's swing, but also one of our big focuses, is definitely the head."

"If you've seen some reports, a lot of people say that "he can't hit a curveball" or something like that, judging from my Area Code appearances – let's take those two years for example. My approach is to go up there looking for my pitch. I have an idea of the pitch I want to hit, so I'll go up there and if the count is 0-0, 1-0, or 2-0 and the guy's got a good breaker and can place it, I'm not going to swing at a breaker because that's not the pitch I'm looking for. It's a heck of a lot harder to hit a breaker going 86 MPH than it is a fastball going 91 MPH. I mean, you're changing several different planes with a breaker so why try to hit that if you're going up there hunting for something that's straight? So I try and find my pitch. I'm extremely picky, I guess you could say. Not overly picky, but I know what I want when I go up to the plate, and if it's not there I'm not going to swing unless I get into an 0-2 count, I'm down, or something like that. Of course if he makes an obvious mistake and hangs one 1-1, 1-2 maybe, that's when I'll really go after it. It also depends on the pitcher and what he likes to throw. One of the big things I'll do before the game while I'm in the dugout and also while I'm on deck is seeing what he leads people off with, what he throws after he gets a strike or gets ahead, if he favors a pitch, and what his outpitch is if he has one. Does he like to throw the fastball? Does he elevate it to the shoulders? Does he throw junk away to get you to chase? Does his change fade? I want to know what he's thinking to the best of my abilities. So I guess my approach is that I'm looking for my pitch. If it's not there then I'm not going to swing, especially if I've got an up count."

It seems pretty obvious to me that Sale has a high baseball IQ and is very in tune with his strengths and weaknesses as a hitter. It also explains what Friedman was talking about when he said, "he's coming in extremely advanced on that front." Sale clearly seems to possess a desire to work on his game extensively. This obviously bodes very well for future success and is further proof that his 2011 season should be viewed cautiously when analyzing it from a purely statistical point of view.

Here are a couple of videos of Sale taking live batting practice in February of 2011 that are from a very good angle to look at his stance and swing at the plate:

Future Outlook

Despite his poor 2011 numbers, there is no reason not to think that Sale won't be promoted to Short-Season A Hudson Valley in 2012 following a similar career path as another highly-touted hitting prospect Jeff Malm.

If the adjustments in his swing are fruitful and his wrist is healthy, we can expect to see a truer indication of his talents in 2012. I fully expect Sale's stock to rise again in prospect circles and see no reason why not to expect significantly improved results next season.

His bat speed, patient plate approach, upper body strength and work ethic make him a good candidate to be at worst an average contact hitter - and more likely one that is above-average.

He isn't a complete mess in the outfield, but given the organization's lack of high-caliber first base prospects outside of perhaps Malm and Cameron Seitzer, a conversion to that position is something that is worth considering. Still, his defensive game is more than adequate to play a corner outfield position in the Majors.

Ranking Philosophy

Sale was a near consensus choice among prospect gurus as one of the Rays' Top 10 prospects going into 2011. Since then his stock has slipped some - fairly or not.

The guys at Rays Prospects have him ranked very similarly at #15, although Scott Grauer doesn't seem to be as high on him putting him at #24. His ranking there is indicative of the overall trend of ranking Sale lower in 2012, as prior to last year's June draft the site had him rated at #6 collectively.

John Sickle's of Minorleagueball.com has him at #23 and says:

"Tough ranking. He hit poorly in the Appy League due to problems with his swing, and he doesn't have enough other skills to be useful without power. The C+ cuts him some slack and reflects his reputation from high school, but he's got to hit better than this."

I tend to agree overall with Sickle's assessment with one caveat: I think Sale deserves somewhat of a pass for 2011 as the Rays's were clearing tinkering with him. We really need to wait and see if the changes in Sale's swing work out for the better or not. However, it is fair to say that without his potential as an impact middle-of-the-order bat, there isn't much to like about Sale. So he needs to hit in order to maintain his status as a top prospect.

Unfortunately Sale is going to fall victim to the same treatment as Tim Beckham by Rays' prospect watchers. Although he was not a number one overall pick like Beckham, he is still a highly touted and drafted high school hitter with a big draft bonus, and because of that, big things will always be expected from him.

As Rays' 2011 Minor League Player of the Year Stephen Vogt pointed out in a recent interview I did with him: "the whole term 'prospect' is a loaded title." There is obviously a tremendous amount of pressure and expectation resting on Sale's broad shoulders. The system is, and has been, devoid of legitimate power hitters for some time. Given the Ray's inability fiscally to get middle-of-the-order type bats via free agency, the franchise is going to need to develop their own. Sale can fit that bill, but it is far to early to say if he will pan out.

Personally you can put an asterisks next to my ranking, as it is based almost solely on his potential and scouting reports rather than his results to date. The Rays's system is extremely deep and after the top two guys it really becomes somewhat of a crap-shoot ranking guys, especially with the huge influx of unproven talent from last year's draft.

That said, I am not in the camp of people who are already pointing to him as a potential bust, and as stated before urge all to exercise patience before further assessing his prospects (or lack thereof) as a Major Leaguer. It's simply WAY to early to know.

John Gregg is Publisher and Senior Editor of Rays Digest. You can follow him on Twitter at @RaysDigest. He can also be reached via e-mail at raysdigest.com@gmail.com.


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