From the second the Rays drafted him, we knew that Josh Sale was not your typical Rays prospect. He’s 6’0″, 215. He’s not one of the athletic, toolsy outfield prospects that the Rays love to stockpile. He’s only an average athlete. But the Rays knew one thing about Sale: boy could he hit. He was a natural in the batter’s box, possessing outstanding strength and bat speed to go along with a standout approach at the plate, possessing a great feel for the strike zone and a natural ability to recognize pitches out of the pitcher’s hand. His feel at the plate was especially impressive considering Sale came out of the state of Washington where the weather prevented him from playing baseball year round. He showed explosive power with the approach at the plate to limit the strikeouts. You don’t see very many players with the ability to produce that combination. The Rays loved Sale’s ability at the plate enough to weigh less heavily his other attributes. Sale isn’t fast and doesn’t have a great arm, which limits him to left field.
The Rays put Sale at a position where all the pressure would be on his bat. And at the start, he completely sputtered. Sale made his pro debut at the Rays’ more advanced Rookie-level team in Princeton and it was a complete disaster as he posted just a .210/.289/.346 line. There were a few positives to his season, but there was more noticeably reason for serious concern. It was shocking when the Rays decided to promote Sale to Low-A Bowling Green in early May after he spent time in extended spring training. But so far, he has thrived.
Thus far in 2012 at Bowling Green, Sale has posted a .308/.420/.615 line with 4 doubles, 8 homers, 20 RBI, and 16 runs scored in 29 games. He has swiped 4 bases in 5 tries and he has walked 17 times compared to just 20 strikeouts. He leads all Midwest League hitters minimum 67 plate appearances in OPS (on-base plus slugging) at 1.035. He also is tied for 9th in home runs despite coming up so late and is 10th in walk rate. His strikeout rate is just 119th-highest in the league. His calling cards have continued to be his power, plate discipline, and his ability to put the bat on the ball. Can he sustain this?
Sale has hit home runs as a crazy rate in 2012. His home runs divided flyballs to the outfield ratio is 28.6%, tied for the 6th-highest in the league, and his home runs/contact ratio is 11.4%, second-highest. Those ratios are likely to go down somewhat, but Sale’s power is definitely real. 40% of Sale’s batted balls have been flyballs to the outfield, giving him plenty of opportunity for home runs and extra-base hits, but what has really stood out has been that Sale has hit extremely few pop-ups: just 1.6% of his batted balls, 4th-lowest in the league. You have to go down to 56th on that list (Twins super-prospect Miguel Sano) to find a player with as high a flyball ratio as Sale or higher. Sale isn’t just making contact, but he’s avoiding pop-ups, one of his Achilles’ heels in 2011, and barreling balls to the outfield. Sale has actually hit very few line drives, just 11.4% of his batted balls compared to 15.1% league average, but that is deceiving as his hard-hit balls have been coming in the form of flyballs to the outfield as opposed to line drives. It’s incredible how Sale has managed to hit for so much power while walking so much, striking out so little, and hitting so few pop-ups as well.
Josh Sale is still all the way down at Low-A and won’t be patrolling the Rays’ left field post anytime in the near future. But he has undeniably reaffirmed everything that the Rays saw in him leading up to the 2010 MLB Draft and showcased his incredible upside in the batter’s box. Rays fans have a lot to look forward to in Josh Sale.