Bradford: Chris Sale can appreciate what might await Durbin Feltman

Rob Bradford
June 11, 2018 - 9:08 pm

USA Today Sports

BALTIMORE — The idea is an intriguing one.

Draft a relief pitcher and then a few months later actually use him in the major leagues. The last time the Red Sox tried such a thing was in 2005 when Craig Hansen struck out two of the three batters he faced just three months after being plucked out of St. John’s University. (It didn't go so well after that.)

Now the conversation has resurfaced thanks to third-round pick Durbin Feltman, a flamethrower from TCU.

“I’ll take it one pitch at a time. It’s what I’ve been doing since I stepped foot on TCU," Feltman said on the Bradfo Sho podcast. “Don’t worry about making it to the majors or anything. Wherever I’m placed, that first outing when they call my number -- it’s one strike at a time." (To listen to the podcast with Feltman, click here.)

The Red Sox' plan right now is to get Feltman going on his professional path and go from there. No guarantees. If there is to be a Brandon Finnegan-esque scenario (the former TCU and Kansas City pitcher who helped the Royals during their 2014 postseason run just months after being taken 17th overall), it will come organically.

But there is one pitcher currently on the Red Sox' roster who will be intently watching to see what transpires. Chris Sale, you see, has lived the life Feltman may be currently staring down.

"The beauty of it was not knowing the magnitude of it," Sale said. "I didn’t have time to get settled to know what was going on. I was just surviving."

When it comes to these fast-track scenarios, Sale might possess the greatest success story of them all.

Like Feltman, Sale was 21 years old when he entered into pro ball, having been the White Sox' first-round pick (13th overall) in the 2010 draft. What many didn't know, however, was that unlike the Red Sox' current approach, Chicago was locked in on their plans for the lefty.

"Initially I was expecting to wait all summer. My agent kind of warned me, ‘If you get drafted in the first round they usually draw this thing out, negotiating for a contract.’ Two weeks go by and my agent calls me and said, ‘They called us and said if I didn’t get hurt and pitched decently they will call you up in September,’" Sale remembered.

"My agent said, 'You're not going to make more money, you're going to sign for slot, but you’re going to go to the minor leagues for a couple of months and they will call you up as long as nothing bad happens.' I’m like, ‘Let’s go!’ A couple of days later I fly to Chicago, throw out the first pitch, tour the stadium, sign my contract and did all my medical stuff and went to Winston-Salem."

In hindsight, what was amazing about the plan was how few people knew that the blueprint had been presented so early on in the process.

"I had to keep it under wraps," Sale said. "I didn’t want to go telling the world. I don’t know if anybody has even talked about it that much since then. But that was kind of the plan. I had what I wanted right in front of me, the big leagues."

Sale would pitch a grand total of 11 games in the minor leagues, dominating with 19 strikeouts and three runs over 10 1/3 innings. And while he was counting the minutes to the call to the bigs, there was the distraction that game with being newly-engaged, having a 2-month-old son and no car (he had to drive his mother's Chevy Tahoe).

"I had no idea what I was getting myself into," he said. "That was probably the best part. I was so ignorant to what was going on. I was just pitching. Go to here. Go to there."

There finally became the majors on Aug. 6, 2010, when he was brought on to face Baltimore's Brian Roberts in the eighth inning at Camden Yards. That resulted in a four-pitch walk, followed by Nick Markakis' single on a 0-2 pitch. Sale's big league debut was done.

"I just remember running in from center field and thinking it was everything you ever wanted right there," Sale said. "It happened in a blink of an eye. I don’t even really remember being out there. It just happened so fast.

"They were definitely putting their neck not the line. You don’t see it a whole lot, and if it doesn’t work out it can blow up in your face. I appreciated it, but the best part about it was me not really knowing the situation. Not that I didn’t appreciate it, but it all happened so fast and it was a whirlwind. College. Have a child. Engaged. Get drafted. Go to the major leagues. It was all within four or five months. I didn’t even own a car."

That White Sox team would fall apart down the stretch, going from 1 1/2-game up in the Central Division when Sale entered the picture, to ending the season six games out. But it was no fault of the rookie. Sale went to dominate out of the bullpen, finishing with a 1.93 ERA in 21 games, striking out 32 in 23 1/2 innings.

He would spend one more season in the White Sox bullpen before becoming a full-time starter and going on his merry way to what is trending toward a Hall of Fame career.

"If it didn’t work the media would have run with it, and fans would have been all over them. They put their necks on the line. Looking back maybe it was the right call, I don’t know," he said. "It ended up working out. I definitely appreciated it. I was just taking one step at a time, that’s all I could do. There was just so much going on with baseball and life. I was just surviving."


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