2010 MLB Draft Q&A: Josh Sale

Although he possesses a physical prowess that is unmatched in the high school ranks, it is the dedication to the study of hitting that has set Seattle's Josh Sale apart from his peers. We sat down with the northwest slugger to discuss working out, his off-field approach to hitting, and what it's like being the center of attention whenever he steps on the field.

I will be running a new interview with one of the best MLB draft prospects 2010 has to offer each Sunday and Wednesday up until June, and you can click here to find an up to date archive of them all.

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Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Are you still 6'1", 215 lbs?

Josh Sale: Yeah, I'm 6'1", about 212 right now.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Do you play any other sports besides baseball?

Josh Sale: Well, golf was actually my primary sport growing up. I had a coach and was working hard at golf – I got to where my handicap was two over. The funny thing was that I started off a natural lefty golfer, but I picked up a right-handed driver once and started messing around with it, and they really liked my hip-turn from the right side, so my dad went out on a Tuesday night for a righty set to use at the next day's practice. I eventually chose baseball over golf and it's been full-time focus on baseball ever since.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What do you shoot now?

Josh Sale: I don't really play much anymore, but I actually just went out for the first time in two years and, with a couple of crooked numbers , shot a two over on the front nine.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Your dad is Samoan, is that correct?

Josh Sale: Yeah, he was born in '53 and left the island when he was seven years old to move to southern California. He hasn't been back since, so we're hopefully making a plan to go back to the island because I've always wanted to go.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: You're known as a guy who built great power through working out. With the stereotype of broadness and power, we've seen athletes with Samoan backgrounds make an impact in the NFL, but not the other major sports. What have you done to find success in baseball?

Josh Sale: Yeah, it's definitely something associated with Samoans, to be big, strong, thick, and pretty quick for their size, so I understand that. My dad was actually a drug-free power-lifter, getting into the top 5% when he was at his peak at ages 27 to 33. He really became interested in training and how to get stronger, outside of getting better as a competitive lifter. He wasn't trained – he did everything by feel and how his body reacted. Over the years he experimented with himself, trying out different routines, different exercises and workouts, noting how his muscles felt and how his body recovered, so he has an incredible understanding of the body and athletic training. He has worked with me to build my strength, power, and quickness to suit what baseball requires – we do lots of quick, explosive movements, tons of core work because that's what baseball is all about, and we don't go for one rep maxes, instead focusing on two and three rep sets when pushing a maximum weight. The goal is not to be that big, thick, and strong stereotype you were talking about, and the work we've done it one of the main reasons I've been able to succeed as much as I have.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: How long have you been a gym rat?

Josh Sale: Since I was about 8. I started body-resistance training then and when I was twelve I started lifting weights. I've always loved the gym because it gives me a sense of accomplishment, but it's also a good getaway. Say you're having a bad day or something, and things aren't going your way, it's just a way to release some anger or tension you may have due to a big paper you wrote for history class that you maybe didn't so well on. It really helps with things like that.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What drew you to Gonzaga?

Josh Sale: My commitment to Gonzaga was due to a few things. First of all, they got to me really early, second of all they gave me a great offer, and third of all the coaches are some of the nicest guys I know and I gelled well with them. They go out of their way to help you and I've heard things about coach Bob Carlson, about how good of hitting coach he is. At the time we didn't know him quite as well so we asked him what his hitting philosophy was, and after getting his answer we came back home, started reading up on him, and saw a lot of people saying he could be one of the best in the nation. He was extremely humble about it, and I try to take the same approach – to not be stand-offish and stuff like that. That was one thing that really helped me gel with him, we had a lot in common – we thought about the same things when it came to hitting. When we talked about it I wouldn't even have to take a swing, we could just talk things out and it amazed me how similar our philosophies were. Fourth of all, it was really close for my parents. I've always wanted them to see me play because they've given up so much for me to be in the position that I'm in. I want to make sure they are able to see me play throughout my career, wherever I go.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: How much have you thought about the draft?

Josh Sale: I try not to worry about it too much. Some great mentors who have been down the same road, maybe not the same magnitude of my situation, but the same position more or less, have said, "just go out there, play your hardest, let your game speak for itself, always play like it's your last game, and let things just work themselves out." I've had great guidance from my advisor, he's been helpful through the entire process, and he's kind of just let me know that I don't need to worry about anything other than playing hard. To be honest, I think about the draft every now and then, but I try not to let it get to me, I mean, I see a lot of scouts at games and I know that they're there to see me, but I just have to tell myself to go out there and have fun. Those things don't get to me, but every now and then the draft does creep into my mind because of the position I'm in and what could be for me in the future.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: When you do allow yourself to think about it, what is the image you get in your mind of playing professionally?

Josh Sale: The picture I get is not really extensive, I guess. I see myself on draft day, hopefully getting picked high somewhere, although I'm not too concerned where I go - I like a lot of the clubs. Then I have a short period where I'm in the minors, and then what ends the daydream is playing in front of a crowd of about 50,000 people in a big Major League park. It seems to end the same way every time…it's kind of hard to explain, it comes to me at random points like when I'm reflecting on how my day went or sitting in class waiting for the bell to ring. It just comes to me, runs through my mind, and for that moment it makes me think, "whoa, that could happen."

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: How many teams have you heard from?

Josh Sale: I've heard from all thirty clubs. I've filled out information for all thirty and had 18 in-house visits.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Were the Yankees one of the teams you have heard from?

Josh Sale: I have heard from the Yankees, their area guy here is Mike Thurman, and he's a great guy. I've got to say that about all of the guys I've talked to and come in contact with – they're all great guys and I can tell that they're working their butts off for their clubs. As far as I know they don't get too much out of this except for the pride of saying they signed a guy, so I have to take my hat off to them and give them some props for coming out every day to see the players. I've got to say that all of them are great, and that includes Mike Thurman, and I've talked to some of the other Yankee guys and they're a great group that goes out of their way to help you in any way that they can. They try to answer questions for you, they try and get information back to you that you might need and may not understand, so all of them are great.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Can you describe yourself as a hitter technically?

Josh Sale: My hitting coach, my dad, and I are the three that know my swing inside and out, and there's always the label of "power hitter" with me, and I guess that's a great label to have, but we think of me as "a hitter with power". We're not trying to be the guy that takes a ball out two out of four times, or one out of three times, we're trying to be somebody that can put it from chalk-line to chalk-line, gap to gap, and also have that power people want to see. We really focus on extension through the ball, really snap with your hands, making sure that head is down, and not trying to take it out every time. I think a lot of the guys with the label "power hitter" are not known for being an all-around hitter; some of them are just put it in the lineup to take one out every now and then, and we really want people to see me as a hitter with power. To be somebody that can do it all, but still have that power that people want or envy in their lineup. From a technical standpoint we really try to keep it simple. My hitting coach and I have this dialect, I guess you could call it. It's not necessarily a different language, it's just the way we phrase things, and he and I are on the exact same page – we know exactly what each other are talking about all the time. I've been with this same hitting coach since I was 10 years old and he knows my swing like the back of his hand. He could tell you everything about it, step by step, click by click, frame by frame; where I should be if I'm off; what it looks like if I'm right on. It's a situation where if I'm around one ball, he'll say one thing and I'll know exactly what went wrong, where it went wrong, and what I need to do to fix it.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What are the basics of the teachings you get from him?

Josh Sale: 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. You've got to be calm with it, you've got to make sure it's down every swing, stuff like that. They are the essentials to making sure you see every inch of that ball's path from the pitcher's hand to your bat.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: How about your approach with regards to plate discipline?

Josh Sale: 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. We like to say that I'm going up there" hunting" for a specific pitch, and if it's not there, why waste your swing, your time, and your energy on something that you don't want?

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What is your personality on the field? What does somebody who comes to watch you play see in terms of your attitude?

Josh Sale: When somebody comes to see me play I like to think that they're going to see a well-hustled game from me – that's what I really want people to walk away with. I want them to see that I go out there with everything that I have; I'm not going to leave anything in reserve, because if I leave something in reserve that means I didn't do something right. In the dugout I try to keep it loose, I try to keep people, including myself, from getting down, if we're going through a bad point. One of the things you've got to remember is to relax and it's all with how you deal with failure, because that's baseball. If you fail seven times out of ten, you're looking at a pretty darn good career, and I just try to make sure that if something gets to me I just let it go. So I try to keep it loose in the dugout and make sure no one is uptight because they're trying to do too much. Once I step between those chalklines it changes. I might say a thing or two before the inning starts, but as soon as the ball is hit to me or I get into a situation at the plate with RISP, I've got to mentally go through all of the possibilities before every pitch. So I like to keep it loose in the dugout and make sure everyone is having a good time, but once I step between the lines I look at it as business. I look at all of these showcases as job opportunities, and I ask myself "what do I want my employer to think?" You want your employer to think that you're hard-working, that you hustle, when you're at your position you know where you're going with the ball at all times, etc. At the same time I want people to see that I'm having fun, because baseball is something that I get an extreme amount of enjoyment from.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Speaking of professional opportunities, is it safe to assume you're a Mariners fan?

Josh Sale: I am. I have a lot of favorite teams to be honest, the game itself is great to me. I could watch a game between the Mariners and Oakland, between the BoSox and the Yankees, between the Marlins and the Mets, between the Astros and the Diamondbacks, and still be able to get something out of it. But the Mariners are the hometown team, I've liked them since I was a little kid, and while they may not be my favorite team, it's baseball at its highest level and I enjoy seeing what people at the highest level are doing.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Who are those highest level players that you look up to for their skills or how they play the game?

Josh Sale: Skills-wise I look at a lot of people. For hitting I could rattle off a rap-sheet of people we've looked at on film. Day in and day out, my hitting coach, my dad, and I take in so much data on people like Manny Ramirez, Albert Pujols, A-Rod, Derek Jeter, Josh Hamilton, Michael Young - these people may not have the same swing, but there are things in their swing that everybody can utilize. The way they get to the ball, the ease in their swing, how they don't overwork yet still get max results – those are some of the people that I look up to for those things. For example, Michael Young loads earlier on the two-strike pitch so he can see it for just that extra fraction of a second longer and make more contact. I'm sure you've noticed, but when Michael Young gets two strikes he seems to put a bat on the ball every time. I mean obviously he's struck out, that's the game of baseball, but I can't remember seeing it. To answer the second half of the question, and not to give the expected answer here, but a person I look up to for how he plays the game is Derek Jeter. I just like the way he lets his game speak for him; he's not in the media and he's not a flashy guy – the flashiest thing I've seen from him is his Gilette commercial, and that's about it [laughs]. Obviously I haven't met him in person and would be honored if I did, but he seems like a really genuine guy who seems composed, mellow, and kind off the field – the kind of guy that you wouldn't regret going up and talking to. I hope that's what people will see in me. I try not to boast, a try to let my game speak for itself, and try to make sure people don't see me as someone they can't approach. Growing up I've been a shy guy and found myself in situations that made me uncomfortable, but through baseball I've gotten rid of that. It's something I'd like to pass on to others, I want them to be able to approach me and ask me questions about my game or what I do off the field and have them come away saying, "hey, I just had a great conversation with Josh, he's a cool guy." So that's who I look up to for my game, both on and off the field.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Have you gotten any comparisons from scouts saying that you remind them of anybody in particular?

Josh Sale: The guy that I've been compared to the most, that I've heard in reports on me, is another guy that was drafted out of the northwest, Travis Snider. When he was drafted it was early in my high school career and I remember seeing reports on him and saying, "man, I want to be like that dude!" [laughs]

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: If you could steal one skill from any other guy in your draft class, whose would it be, and why?

Josh Sale: If I had all the same attributes that I do right now and could steal one skill, I'd take it from one of my best friends; he's like a brother, we hang out almost every weekend – I'm sure I have plans with him tomorrow [laughs], but Ryan Brett's speed is definitely what I'd take. That kid runs exceptionally well. He's not very tall at all, in fact a lot of people have doubted him because of his size, but he's extremely muscular – another one of my workout buddies – and he's basically a brother to me. He's about 5'9", but the explosiveness he has in the first four steps is just ridiculous – I mean, he squats close to the same weight that I do. So he's one of my good buddies and I'll put him on the spot for his speed, but that's the only one I can think of.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Who is the toughest pitcher you've faced?

Josh Sale: It was actually my first Area Code appearance the summer going into my junior year when I was one of two underclassmen on my team. One of the pitchers we faced was a kid from Florida that was a 6'6" lefty who was about 210-215 lbs – a big kid. I remember getting up there and it was my first at-bat, and he throws a high-and-in fastball clocking about 96 MPH. That was the first time I had seen really good pitching and I ended up grounding out and striking out against him. I'm telling you – his fastball from the left side, a high leg kick, hid the ball extremely well, came across three-quarters at 96 MPH, and it was there before you could even blink. His curveball started at my shoulder and dropped to a right-hander's ankles in a fraction of a second, and his changeup was exceptionally good – it started mid-plate and bit down to my back foot. He had great movement and he commanded it really well.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What do you like to do off the field?

Josh Sale: I like to hang out with friends; just try to keep it low-key. I like to think that I can play basketball, but I definitely can't [laughs]. Some days the shot is there, and some days it looks like I just found a basketball and am hucking it at a hoop, but I like to hang out with the guys, shoot some hoops, and I love working out – that's my biggest thing. When I'm "away from baseball" I'm usually not away from baseball – I'm in the cages just grinding away and that's something I love. To get in there and just work your butt off, come home, and feel accomplished – like you did something good that day. In the summer I like to be on the beach, trying to get a little bit of a tan going, and just hanging out with friends and relaxing. It's important that I make sure to have some downtime because for me to have any is rare and when I do get it I like to be able to completely relax and not have anything to worry about. I also love getting together with family. It's become more scarce seeing as how my baseball schedule has taken a rise in comparison to what it used to be, but hanging out with family would definitely rank up there as one of my favorite things to do. My brother just had a kid, I love seeing the little guy, and my brother's pretty happy about it, so those are the things that I enjoy when I'm not playing baseball.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Lastly, you have two amazing opportunities in front of you with college and the draft, yet there is some pressure associated with them, especially with you being one of the most hyped players in this draft. How do you deal with that, and at the same time try to be just a normal, 18 year old kid?

Josh Sale: Well, yeah, I guess a lot of the kids that go to my school have gotten word about me as "the kid that is really good at baseball," but some things have really opened my eyes about the magnitude of my situation. One of them was realizing that a lot of people that I don't know know me, and I found it , well, I guess "touching" sounds a bit intimate [laughs], but I found it touching that people know of me, and even hold me as a role model. I remember playing in a pretty big weekend tournament last summer and we had people coming from all over Wahington; from Walla Walla, from Wenatchee, places like that, and one of the kids from the Wenatchee team came up to me while I was eating lunch in my truck with my dad standing next to me. He asked me if I was Josh, and when I said yes he said, "I saw your article and I just wanted to tell you that you are a big inspiration to me," and he was around the same age I was. I was kind of shocked to be honest, and I worried for a moment that I was giving him a face that could put him off because I really had no idea what was going on [laughs]. He extended his hand for a handshake and I gave him a firm one and told him "thanks a lot, man, that means a lot to me, and I wish you the best of luck." It was so eye-opening how I got out to people and even inspired a kid like that, even though I had never met him before. It was just really cool and I hope I can be that inspiration to others, whether they're the same age or younger. That's how I deal with it though, I try not to think about it too much because a lot of people can label you as just "the baseball player," and I'd like people to know me as more than that. Hopefully people will know me as a guy who tries to be as genuine a person as possible, and a good all-around individual rather than just a guy who plays baseball at a high level.

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