As we continue our tour of the top prospects across the Chicago baseball landscape this afternoon, we take a look at Chicago White Sox #5 prospect, Carson Fulmer.
Is the luster on Carson Fulmer’s star fading ever so slightly?
Sure, he still has a fastball sitting low- to mid-90s with a ton of movement, an 11-5 curveball, plus slider and a cutter that can be downright filthy. He went back to his hectic college delivery, though, and has struggled finding consistency in the zone.
And, yes, there are Hall of Fame hurlers who experienced the exact same scenario early in their career. Bob Gibson, who was roughly the same size during his playing days, amassed a 4.55 ERA, 1.608 WHIP and averaged 4.8 BB/9 over his first two seasons before becoming one of the most dominant right-handers in Major League Baseball history.
But after watching him pitch in person and looking at the reports, it seems less certain that he will be an impact starter for the Chicago White Sox. He may well end up being one heck of a reliever, though his max-value for the club (and star power) was always going to be defined by how many dominant innings he logged in the White Sox rotation.
To be fair, a future in the bullpen for the 2015 first-round selection out of Vanderbilt was always on the table and isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Frankly, the kid might be built for it. Texas A&M head coach Rob Childress told Jim Callis of MLB.com prior to the 2015 First-Year Player Draft:
“With his mound presence and stuff, he’s got a chance to be a front-line closer in the big leagues. I’m not saying he can’t start, but his presence within the team is special, and it’s not just mound presence. To have that one or two times a week as a starter isn’t as special as having it four or five times a week as a closer.”
Now none of this is to say that Fulmer doesn’t have the tools to make it as a starter. Quite the opposite. His frame lends well to taking the ball every fifth day. It’s the other stuff that is going to prevent him from finding sustained excellence in the White Sox rotation.
“Despite his status as a 6-foot right-hander, Fulmer has a sturdy lower half that would lend durability in a starting role. Control remains the biggest hurdle for him to clear, because while not every walk he issues will come around to score, a combination of too many free passes and too many fly balls—and Fulmer is more of a fly ball pitcher—can be deadly for starting pitchers.”
And keep this contextual point in mind: The Row’s drop to No. 21 in ESPN.com’s Park Factor has more to do with the woeful offenses the White Sox have trotted out over the last three years and the combination of Chris Sale and Jose Quintana keeping opposing lineups in check than anything else. In other words, fly balls on 35th and Shields are still dangerous, making Fulmer’s control issues and fly-ball tendencies a recipe for giving up five runs over 3.2 innings.
All that said, the future is in Fulmer’s hands. He will start the season in the rotation at Triple-A Charlotte where he will be given every opportunity to prove the success he found at the end of 2016 wasn’t a run of good luck. If it does, he will likely end up in the rotation on a full-time basis at some point this year to see if he can stick as a No. 3 or 4 starter.
If he struggles, however, I expect a permanent move to the bullpen. The White Sox are going to have to pick a lane with Fulmer and with so many other legitimate options at starting pitcher, they have the luxury of inserting a dynamic arm into the relief corps without damaging the rebuild efforts.
Kind of a nice place to be, actually. Thanks, Rick.
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