The South Side hype train finally saw a bounty of young, promising talent arrive to their ever-so-scant farm system in 2017. Top prospect Eloy Jimenez, as well as flame-throwing pitcher Michael Kopech, and Reynaldo Lopez were all added to the fold, just to name a few.
With all the rumblings it’s easy to forget that before the banner offseason, there was a promising, young right handed pitcher out of Vanderbilt named Carson Fulmer who was drafted by the White Sox in 2015.
With a powerful three-pitch repertoire, Fulmer was one of the most recognized college pitchers in that draft and was selected eighth overall in a year that was devoid of quality arms. He had a fastball that touched 95 and attended an alma mater known for producing pitchers such as David Price and Sonny Gray.
For the White Sox, Fulmer is every as intriguing as he is frustrating. Though he stands just six-feet tall, he possesses a strong lower build — a feature of framework that usually lends itself to durability in a starting pitchers who throw with the velocity Fulmer does.
But, as time wore on in the minor leagues, it became evident that as plus as his stuff played in the way of strikeouts, Fulmer had mechanical issues that contributed to elevated walk rates and an extremely high flyball rate. Last year, over 23 innings pitched with the White Sox, Fulmer had a nearly 55 percent flyball rate. While only 11 percent of those turned up in the seats at Guaranteed Rate Field that, coupled with being prone to walk batters, are not qualities that bode well for an aspiring starting pitcher.
Just a year ago, Fulmer was ranked the No. 3 White Sox prospect by Baseball America. But with the organization’s recent influx of top-tier talent, Fulmer’s path to becoming a front end or even mid-rotation starter within the organization has been shadowed by a newer, younger, crop that’s arrived what feels like overnight.
So the question then becomes, what is Fulmer’s future with the White Sox now? The visions of his future role within the organization from a long term standpoint have certainly shifted, but not simply because of the shift in prospect depth. Fulmer has shown his cards on a major league mound for nearly 40 innings now.
Fulmer’s flyball rate was extremely high last season and he also lowered his groundball rate significantly from 44 percent in 2016 to just 28 percent in 2017. Perhaps that was a fluky baseball thing, considering the rate at which Major League Baseball saw fly balls increase last season. It’s still promising, whatever the cause could be for the spike in flyball rate, that not many of Fulmer’s fly balls left the yard. However, heavy flyball pitchers with known control issues are somewhat a recipe for disaster as starters.
Which leads one to the idea that, as many had suggested at the start of Fulmer’s career, perhaps he is best relegated to a strong and efficient role in the bullpen. His repertoire which saw increased usage in his cutter and changeup in the majors, while he also utilized his strong four-seam fastball. That combination makes for a strong arsenal for a relief pitcher to possess, especially when it is accompanied with good velocity (his cutter averaged 89 mph in 2017 while his fastball touched 96 mph) and a strikeout per nine of 7.33. All these things will play up well in a bullpen situation.
After depleting their relief staff through a series of trades in 2017, the White Sox surely need to fill those gaps. The White Sox also recently non-tendered Jake Putnam and Jake Petricka, making their bullpen staff even thinner. Fulmer would be a interesting solution to the White Sox’s immediate need.
While Fulmer may not retain much value in a trade as opposed to the value he can provide staying in the White Sox organization, it’s crucial that the White Sox remain vigilant in their pursuit to work on perfecting Fulmer’s development. Mechanical issues, getting him to stay tall on the mound, and keep his pitches in the zone while producing more ground ball contact will help the organization really understand what role he is suited best for in the coming years with the White Sox. Fulmer’s development is not over, and neither the importance he brings to the organization, it’s simply being reassigned.