When the White Sox drafted Chris Sale with the 13th pick in the first round they knew they could use him in the bullpen immediately.
The reason the Sox were so sure of this was the fact that he already had two major league caliber pitches and a third one (his slider) that wasn't far behind.
Clearly GM Kenny Williams and his scouts were right about Sale; he's put up a 0.82 ERA since his call-up and has looked like Matt Thornton's underfed twin.
Now the question is, do the White Sox send him to the minors at the beginning of next season and stretch him back out into a starting pitcher? In other words, should the Sox risk a sure thing in the bullpen and gamble on Sale translating just was well into a starter?
Sale's scouting report coming out of college was:
"His fastball is a plus pitch that generally sits 91-94, touching 96, and he commands it with plus precision. He gets a lot of life on it due to his three-quarters release point, and it’s one of the best left-handed fastballs in this class. His best secondary pitch is a plus change up with excellent depth and fade, and it’s a major league-ready pitch. His third pitch is an average slider that isn’t commanded nearly as well, and there are concerns about his inability to spin a breaking ball."
The part that jumps out at me in that report is "there are concerns about his inability to spin a breaking ball." A hard throwing left hander like Sale, especially one with his release point, can get away with two very good pitches and one questionable one (just ask Matt Thornton).
A left-handed starter, on the other hand, won't be anything more than a back of the rotation guy unless he has three pitches to get him through his days when one or two of his pitches aren't working.
I don't have the answer to whether or not the Sox should convert Sale back to a starter next season. Their top five starters are already in house, which would mean that Sale's work would need to be done on the minor league level. Meanwhile, there would once again be a void in the bullpen where a guy like Sale has such immense value.
An example of a hard throwing young pitcher with aspirations of starting is Neftali Feliz. Feliz was in the bullpen for Texas last season but throughout the off-season he voiced his desire to be a starter. The Rangers stretched him out in spring training but ultimately started him back out in the bullpen with the intention of getting him into the rotation as soon as possible into the season.
Currently Feliz ranks fourth in the AL in saves with 34.
The point is that sometimes pitchers are suited to be shutdown guys out of the pen. Would Texas be playoff bound this season if they had sent Feliz down so he could be ready as a starter?
Will the Sox be playoff bound next season if they take Sale out of the bullpen?