ST. PETERSBURG -- As he stood in front of a locker in the Rays' clubhouse Wednesday afternoon, outfield prospect Josh Sale was, technically, still on the team's restricted list, unable to play following an indefinite suspension in May for conduct detrimental to the organization.
But for the first time in a while, the former first-round Draft pick could say he's back on the right track.
Sale was one of 24 Tampa Bay prospects to attend Wednesday's portion of the club's Winter Development Camp, going through a workout at Tropicana Field and then meeting with the media in the clubhouse that they all hope to one day call home. It was Sale's first time speaking publicly since his most recent suspension, and he came across as humbled and remorseful for his actions.
"I was able to grow up. That was really what needed to be worked on, just me as a person doing what I can to better myself, because nobody's bigger than the game. The game's bigger than everybody," said Sale, who was banned 50 games in August 2012 after testing positive for methamphetamine and an amphetamine. "So making myself a better person off the field will greater my chances to produce well on the field."
Rays director of Minor League operations Mitch Lukevics said the club is happy with how Sale has matured off the field and was pleased it could invite him to the annual prospects camp.
Activating him off the restricted list is now a matter of paperwork, Lukevics said, one the Rays hope to complete toward the end of Spring Training. Lukevics confirmed that he expects Sale to play this year, assuming he stays on track.
"As he continues to progress, we'll evaluate his offseason," Lukevics said. "Depending on the offseason, we'll make a determination on his Spring Training."
"Right now, our focus is off the field and helping him work through some things that he's been focusing on in the past," added executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. "We've got a tremendous support system in place, and once we feel like that is in order and something that will not be a limiting factor for him on the field, we'll get him back on the field and see where he's at."
Shortly after returning from his initial suspension, Sale was sent home by the organization following a Facebook post about visiting a strip club. The 22-year-old served most of his suspension at his family's home in the Seattle area, leaning on them for help along with Vince Lodato, the director of the Rays' Employee Assistance Program, with whom he spoke almost every day.
During that time, Sale admitted Wednesday, he thought about the possibility that he may have just wasted away his once-promising young career.
"It may have crossed my mind. It wasn't far from my mind," Sale said. "But the Rays provided a lot of support. They never let me down. They never gave me any reason to believe that. I'd say that it crossed [my mind], but it was never reality."
Sale, the 17th-overall pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, likely was headed to Class A Advanced Port Charlotte last season. After a rough debut with Rookie-level Princeton in 2010, Sale bounced back and hit .264/.391/.464 with 10 homers and 44 RBIs in 74 games for Class A Bowling Green in 2011.
Lukevics said it's hard to expect anything in particular of Sale when he returns, but Sale said his workouts at home have left him feeling strong physically and at the plate. He'd like to get faster, and he'd like to resume moving up the chain toward the Major Leagues.
But more than anything, Sale wants to get back on the field. Soon enough, both he and the Rays hope, he will be.
"It feels great to be back in a clubhouse with all my teammates. It's a great feeling just to be back," Sale said. "Having the support of the team, the support of the Rays, everybody around, it's been great.
"I'm back to doing what I love and what I've worked my whole life for. It's an amazing feeling to be back."