On May 18th, Josh Sale hit a line shot down the line so hard it almost hit the light pole in right field when it cleared the fence.
And who other than Sale to do such a thing? He's only been the Rays system's most lethal hitter since joining the Bowling Green Hot Rods after opening the season in extended spring training.
After Sale's home run, the Dayton Dragons decided to pitch around Sale in the bottom of the ninth in a one-run ball game, not wanting to give him a good pitch to hit.
"Sale's earned that," Hot Rods manager Brady Williams said. "He is really swinging the bat well."
Sale has proven to be one of best hitters on a Hot Rod team that leads the whole Midwest League in batting with a .263 average.
Some believed Sale to be a let down after a sub-par season last year while at rookie level Princeton. This claim seems a little premature giving Sale's age, 20, and inexperience. He credits the turn around this year to a better focus at the plate and work ethic on and off the field.
"I'm am much more focused now," Sale said. "I have a much better mind set."
Sale's work ethic and attention to detail has allowed him to improve as a player on the field. He describes himself as being less worried about goals and more about the process of getting better.
"If it takes me working so hard that I can't move then I'm going to," Sale said. "I don't personally care about how I am hitting or the home runs, I just want to play baseball to the best that I can."
Brady Williams says that all of Sale's success this season is because of Sale's own hard work.
"He has worked really hard to get where he is at right now," Williams said.
Sale used his time in extended spring training to really focus on his attention to detail. He now believes that you can't take the small things for granted in baseball.
"I began to focus on the small things, such as running balls out to first," Sale said. "As long as I take care of the small things everything will fall into place."
Bat speed has always been a strong suit for Sale but he often found himself taking big swings in counts that didn't call for it, often trying to do too much with pitches when it wasn't necessary. Williams thinks Sale is having success now because of his patience at the plate.
"He's aggressive on the pitches he is looking for and is staying locked in on pitches that he wants to hit," Williams said.
This season Sale feels much more comfortable and focused in the batter's box.
"Once I step into that box there is no thinking, it is just a duel between me and the pitcher," Sale said. "I don't see the fielders, I only see the pitcher and if he makes a mistake I try and capitalize on it."The Tampa Bay Rays selected Sale, a Seattle native, with the 17th pick in the first round of the 2010 MLB draft. Sale originally committed to Gonzaga before deciding to sign professionally. Sale was the first of three Seattle-area players drafted in the first three rounds that year, including current Hot Rods' Drew Vettleson and Ryan Brett.
Baseball America ranked Sale as the fifth best prospect in the Rays system entering the 2011 season. He played in 60 games with Princeton and had a .210 batting average with four home runs and 15 runs batted in.
Sale was not included on the Baseball America Rays Top 30 prospects list entering the 2012 season, but since being called up from extended spring training Sale is hitting a team best .351, with 15 RBIs in just 13 games with the Hot Rods. He has already matched his RBI total from last year at Princeton. Along with his batting average and home run total, Sale also leads the team with an on base percentage of .490.
Sale attributes his recent success to better focus when dealing with the distractions that come with being a high draft pick along with the pressure to succeed as a top prospect.
"I personally think I was caught up in myself a little bit," Sale said. "I wasn't playing the game the way it should be played."
Sale had a big three-run home run May 17th followed by the aforementioned homer the next day. He seems to be in a good groove going into the Hot Rods' long road stretch.
"As long as I go through my routine and perform my daily drills, things should take care of themselves," Sale said. "I don't try and hit homeruns but every now and then when I get my pitch, my eyes get real big."
Williams has enjoyed watching Sale's development during the offseason and in extended spring training.
"He keeps getting better every day," Williams said.
Austin Nichols is the Bowling Green beat writer for Rays Digest. You can follow him on Twitter at @Nichols_HotRods.
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