As the White Sox open the 2012 campaign, they are faced with many questions. Can Adam Dunn return to form? Will Jake Peavy stay healthy for an entire season? Only time will tell, but one thing White Sox fans should be looking forward to amongst all the questions is the emergence of Chris Sale into the rotation. Sale has been on the scene for just two years and has already made a name for himself as one of the better young left handed arms in the American League, though rarely mentioned when talking about the elite young arms today. Out of the bullpen for the White Sox he has averaged over ten strikeouts per nine innings with an ERA of 2.79 in his two seasons. It is rare to see pitchers with high strikeout rates also have a high ground ball rate to go along with it. Sale is at 50% which means half of his outs that don’t end in a strikeout are ground balls. That keeps the ball in play and in a park like U.S. Cellular Field being a ground ball pitcher is key in what is usually one of the most hitter friendly parks each season. To put those numbers into perspective, they are similar to the numbers of Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Zach Grienke, and C.J. Wilson just to name a few who have both high strikeout and ground ball rates. He has all the makings of an All-Star caliber starting pitcher. As he moves from the bullpen into a starter’s role we may see the strikeouts drop a bit as well as some velocity in his fastball, but it will still be well above average for a left hander. One concern for Sale is his control. He walks a few more batters than you would like to see, but that tends to be the case with most young pitchers, and control is something that can be worked on and improvement should be seen as the years go on. With adding a changeup to go along with his fastball and slider this spring, Sale had positive things to say just two weeks into spring training. ‘‘It’s been good, I’m going to rely on the changeup a lot this year.” I would expect Sale to be monitored very closely by Robin Ventura and Don Cooper throughout the entire season and they may go as far as putting a cap on his innings for the season this being his first year starting in the majors after only throwing 94.1 innings in relief during his first two seasons. Guys like Matt Moore and Michael Pineda get all the press for being the best young arms in the game, and while that praise is well deserved, Chris Sale appears to be floating under the radar heading into the 2012 campaign. Sale says he’s feeling great both mentally and physically heading into the season and also admits he isn’t as nervous as he was last year for his first spring training. ‘‘I know where I’m going this year,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m not walking out the wrong door anymore. Obviously, I’m more comfortable with the facility. The jitters aren’t as high as they were last year. It was my first spring training, but the intensity is still there, the excitement is still there.’’ It appears Sale is comfortable in his new role early into the spring and is ready for a breakout season. So for White Sox fans looking for reasons to head to the ballpark this year, put Chris Sale at the top of your list. You won’t be disappointed.
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