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Tuesday, September 7, 2010
How unlikely is Chris Sale?


Aaron Gleeman on one of the season's more unlikely (or not) stories:
Three months ago Chris Sale was a starting pitcher for Florida Gulf Coast College and now he's perhaps the most-trusted reliever in the White Sox's bullpen, picking up his first career victory with 2.2 flawless innings yesterday.

Selected with the 13th overall pick in June's draft and almost immediately signed to a $1.65 million bonus, Sale made quick work of the minors and has allowed just one run in 13.2 innings since his August 6 debut.

Sale's a good story. But my guess is there are a lot of college starters who could make a fairly immediate splash in the minors. They don't because college starters drafted in the first round -- the most talented young pitchers that anyone can identify -- next become professional starters rather than professional relievers.

But if you can throw 95 miles an hour with reasonable control, you don't need a great deal else. Sale's been pitching for many years. The Dodgers have this kid, Kenley Jansen, who was a catcher until last summer. But he couldn't hit and he was 6-feet-6 and he could throw really hard, so the Dodgers made him a pitcher. This year in the minors he struck out 78 hitters in 45 innings, and he's essentially done the same thing since joining the big club six weeks ago.

The dirty little secret about relief pitching is that there are many hundreds of pitchers in professional baseball, right now, who could be excellent relievers in the major leagues right now. The great majority of them are starters.

If teams had 30-man rosters, everybody would have 15- or 16-man pitching staffs, and starting pitchers as we know them would become mostly extinct. Instead, we might see the "starter" go two innings and be followed in quick succession by four or five "relievers," with everyone throwing mid-90s fastballs and impossible breaking stuff.

Baseball's not easy. I can't throw 70 anymore. But there are scads of big boys on this earth who can throw 95 for an inning or two.