Three years ago, left-handed pitcher Chris Sale came out of Lakeland High School. Though he was taken by the Rockies in the 21st round of the 2007 Draft, he was about as unheralded as a tall southpaw could possibly be.
He was virtually unrecruited by colleges. The major programs in Florida didn't even so much as offer a partial scholarship. So when lesser-known Florida Gulf Coast University wanted him to come, it was a fairly simple decision.
"I never got recruited by any of them," Sale said. "I was approached by Florida Gulf Coast going into my senior year. I saw the campus, the facilities. They told me what they were doing [with their program].
"It's a great place -- it's not too far from home. I was all in right there. I never got too much attention from many other schools in Florida or anywhere else. This was the only Division I school I could come to and get some pitching time, which was essentially what I wanted to do out of high school."
Sale hasn't just gotten a chance to pitch. After throwing almost entirely in relief as a freshman, he moved into the rotation and excelled as a sophomore. It's continued as a junior, and Sale is looking like a guy who's going to hear his name called in the top half of the first round.
That, of course, begs the question: What happened? What made Sale evolve from unrecruited to first-rounder? It must be some added pitch, a screwball, a cutter, something of that nature, right? No, the way Sale tells it, it just was a matter of growing up.
"Just maturity was the biggest thing for me," Sale explained. "In high school, every little thing used to get to me. If someone made an error, or if I gave up a hit -- if something went south, I'd get so frustrated, it'd change my whole game. I'd try to throw harder, I'd try to make better pitches.
"Here, they saw that and said, 'You can't let these things get to you. You can only control what you can control... get the next guy.' That was the biggest thing for me: growing up and realizing the game. That helped me tremendously."
Clearly it did. Sale has gone 3-0 with a 1.59 ERA over his first six starts of 2010. He's struck out 47 and walked just four over 34 innings of work. That certainly has helped his stock on Draft boards, but it merely augments what he did to jump on them over the summer.
That's when Sale got invited to pitch in the elite Cape Cod League. Just getting the invite was thrilling enough considering the program he was coming from, but that wasn't enough for Sale.
"When I first got the call, I was so excited," Sale said. "I was like a little kid at Christmas. They asked me [here] what I wanted to do that summer. I said, 'I want to see where I stand. I want to play against the best of the best.' It was nerve-racking. Who wouldn't get nervous?"
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The nerves clearly didn't affect his performance. Sale went 4-2 with a 1.47 ERA, allowing just 37 hits and striking out 57 (vs. just nine walks) over 55 innings. He went to the league's All-Star Game and was named the Eastern team's MVP. That was topped only by the lefty earning Pitcher of the Year honors for his efforts.
"Everyone told me before I went up there, 'That's where all the scouts go,'" Sale said. "That's where they are. To perform well in the summer, you can do yourself a favor by playing well this summer. It's going to help you out this summer [for the Draft]. You perform well there, you'll put yourself on the map. It's proven. Now guys are coming to see me play."
The added attention hasn't bothered Sale at all. He sees the scouts in the same way as he views himself: as people with a job to do. Considering that immaturity was a problem when he was in high school, it's amazing that one of the things Sale gets the highest praise for is his mound presence. There's no question he's come a long way.
"When I first got here, they said, 'You have some good ability, you're a good pitcher. With the help of us, and if you work hard and you're determined, you can do this,'" Sale said. "Even my teammates have been pushing me through practice to be better each day. Everyone's been real supportive of me."
"This" is getting ready for the next level. Every kid who's ever shown any ability on a baseball diamond has at one time dreamed of playing professional baseball. That dream often dies when ceilings are hit at various levels. What's amazing about Sale is that, when he was faced with the fact that the University of Miamis and Floridas of the world didn't come knocking, he didn't allow himself to let go of what he always wanted.
"I talk to my dad all the time, and he told me, 'This is exactly where you wanted to be since you picked up a baseball,'" Sale said. "Coming out of high school, this was a stepping stone. I want to do as well as I can, I want to play in the pros. I want to be an Major League baseball player.
"That's been a dream of mine forever. This is something I want to do, and I think I'm capable of doing it. With the help of these guys, I have a chance to be a Major League baseball player."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.