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White Sox Position Preview: Bullpen

The White Sox boosted their bullpen this off-season and it's looking like it will be one of the best units on the team. Sean previews the bullpen here.

This off-season, the White Sox made it a priority to boost the bullpen. They started that process when they traded for Alex Colome and continued to improve the unit when they signed Kelvin Herrera. Pairing those two with the plethora of high-leverage arms the White Sox bullpen already has should make for some deadly combos in the late innings of games. With that being said, let’s take a look at what the White Sox bullpen is bringing to the table during the 2019 season:

Who will be the closer?

There hasn’t been a formal announcement of who will assume the closing duties, or who will get the first looks as the closer during Spring Training. Kelvin Herrera and Alex Colome will get the majority of the opportunities as the closer, and Nate Jones will be thrown into the mix a little bit as well. Herrera and Colome, however, have much more experience as a closer than Jones does, so I expect those two to be featured much more than Jones in that role.

Alex Colome has more saves (96) than Kelvin Herrera does (60). Colome also has a better save percentage (83.5 percent) and less blown saves (19) than Herrera does (74.1 save percentage and 21 blown saves). Kelvin Herrera has two more years of MLB experience over Colome, but Colome has been the more dominant closer throughout his MLB career. In 2017, Alex Colome racked up a career-high 47 saves, giving him a total of 21 more saves in a season than Kelvin Herrera’s career-high of 26 during the same season. So with that being said, I expect Alex Colome to get most of the early looks as the closer and to eventually own that role full-time as the 2019 season rolls on.

Who will take on the long relief role?

Having all of these high-leverage, flame throwing arms in the bullpen is great, but the White Sox do need some guys that can take on the long relief role. In my preview of the starting rotation, I talked about how Dylan Covey, Manny Banuelos, and Jordan Stephens are three guys that will battle for the 5th spot in the rotation. These are also three guys that can take on that role for the team now and down the road. Between Covey and Banuelos, the loser out of those two still has an opportunity to break camp with the major league team. If Jordan Stephens is unsuccessful at earning that spot in the rotation, then he is most likely heading to Charlotte to start the year. However, there’s the possibility that Stephens could be used in the bullpen and he might get that opportunity to show what he can do during the 2019 season.

Both Dylan Covey and Manny Banuelos have experience pitching out of the bullpen. Covey has that experience at the major league level, and Banuelos has that experience only in the minors. Whichever one of the two loses out in the rotation battle is most likely going to head to the bullpen and take on the long relief role. There’s going to be times when starting pitchers get chased out of the game early, so even though the White Sox are loaded up on high-leverage arms, having a guy or two that can handle and eat up a multiple innings from the bullpen can be just as valuable as having those late inning shutdown arms. I believe that Manny Banuelos will be the long relief guy in the bullpen to start the season. However, if Dylan Covey struggles and Banuelos is performing well, there’s the possibility that those two could switch roles during the season.

The rest of the bullpen

The White Sox have a ton of options in the bullpen, including guys already in the majors right now and guys that will get experience at some point this year. This unit is going to have a bit of a roster crunch and there might be some players traded before or during the season. Shocking, right? If there’s one thing the White Sox are consistent at it’s trading bullpen pieces throughout the year. The group of pitchers in the bullpen on Opening Day will look a lot different months into the season and by the end of the year. The White Sox always shuffle around guys in the bullpen and get looks at a lot of the different talent that they have available.

Some of the guys that should be featured regularly throughout the season include: Jace Fry, Nate Jones, Alex ColomeKelvin Herrera, and Juan Minaya. If the White Sox decide to keep 13 pitchers on the roster, which they usually do, that would leave two spots open assuming that one of Covey or Banuelos are locked into that long relief role. With two spots available, that will open up a competition for guys like Ian Hamilton, Aaron Bummer, Caleb Frare, Ryan Burr, and Thyago Vieira to fight for those last two spots during Spring Training.

Ian Hamilton got his first taste of the MLB at the end of the season last year. The right-handed flamethrower posted a 4.50 ERA with 5 strikeouts and 2 walks in 8.0 IP. That doesn’t look like a promising start, however, his ERA was blown up from 1.59 to 4.76 in one game when he gave up a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the ninth inning before being able to record an out. Sometimes it can be beneficial for a young pitcher to make a mistake like that early in his career so he can learn from it and move on. Aside from that, Hamilton made 9 appearances during the 2018 season and did not allow an earned run in six of those appearances. His stats make it look like his MLB career got off to a rough start, but I was impressed with what I saw out of Ian Hamilton last season. I expect him to be one of the two pitchers to win the Spring Training battle and be on the White Sox roster for Opening Day.

Aaron Bummer got his second season of MLB experience in 2018 and he showed some improvements from the 2017 season. Last year, Bummer posted a 4.26 ERA with 35 strikeouts and 10 walks in 31.2 IP. He managed to walk less people last year (10) than he did in 2017 (15) while throwing 9.2 more innings in 2018. Bummer was an efficient pitcher last season, minus three outing where he surrendered two or more earned runs in 1.1 IP or less. Throughout his career so far, lefties are hitting just .213 against Bummer and he has struck out more lefties (23) than he has given up hits to them (20). Aaron Bummer has the potential to become a regularly featured bullpen arm for the White Sox in the near future. However, I think he starts the season in Charlotte and will find his way to the majors again at some point in 2019.

Ryan Burr reached the majors for the first time in his career during the 2018 season. With the White Sox, Burr had a 7.45 ERA with 6 strikeouts and 6 walks in 9.2 IP. He was great in his MLB debut as he was perfect through 1.1 innings and rung up two batters. Unfortunately, as September rolled on he wasn’t getting hitters to chase anything out of the zone and was tagged for one run or more in four of his final six appearances. Before being called up to the majors, Ryan Burr was briefly pitching in Triple-A for the first time in his career. I expect Burr to head back to Triple-A to start the 2019 season to get more experience, but he’s another guy we could see again at the major league level this year.

Thyago Vieira is one of the hardest throwing pitchers not just in the White Sox bullpen, but throughout the entire organization. His fastball sits around the mid-90’s, but he can touch the high-90’s consistently too. His problem? He has a hard time controlling it and sometimes it seems like he has no idea where the pitch is going once it leaves his hand. In 2018, Vieira posted a 7.13 ERA with 15 strikeouts and 9 walks in 17.2 IP. When you have a guy that throws that hard and can’t control where the pitch is going, it can lead to some meatballs being left over the plate and that’s another problem that Vieira ran into last season. Thyago Vieira has the potential to become a very dominant pitcher at the major league level, he just has a lot to work on before he can get to that point. I expect Vieira to head to Charlotte to start the 2019 season where he can begin trying to figure things out and working towards reaching his potential.

Caleb Frare is another guy that got his first taste of MLB action in 2018. During the season, Frare had a 5.14 ERA with 9 strikeouts and 4 walks in 7.0 IP. His MLB career got off to a great start as he tossed a perfect inning and struck out two batters during his debut. Unfortunately, he followed that up by surrendering three earned runs in just 0.1 IP in his next outing. Frare would proceed to find his groove for the rest of the year and only allowed one earned run in his final 9 appearances of the season. Caleb Frare is a high-leverage lefty with a fastball that sits around the mid-90’s and he pairs that with a slider. He was lights out in Charlotte before being called up and I expect him to eventually become a lights out reliever at the major league level. Frare is the other guy that I believe will win the battle for the last roster spot and will be with the White Sox on Opening Day.

Final prediction for the White Sox Bullpen on Opening Day:

  1. Manny Banuelos
  2. Jace Fry
  3. Nate Jones
  4. Alex Colome
  5. Kelvin Herrera
  6. Juan Minaya
  7. Ian Hamilton
  8. Caleb Frare

Prospects to keep an eye on during Spring Training

Aside from the previously mentioned players that will be battling it out for the final bullpen spots on the Opening Day roster, here are a few more guys to watch for during Spring Training:

One player to keep an eye on is former starting pitcher Carson Fulmer. It’s been a tough adjustment to the major leagues for Fulmer so far. The initial run as a starting pitcher didn’t work out, so he got bumped into the bullpen to try and carve out a future role with the team. The 2018 season marked the first time where Fulmer spent the majority of his time in the bullpen. With the Knights in 2018, Fulmer posted a 5.32 ERA with 62 strikeouts and 41 walks in 67.2 IP. It’s hard to give up on the former 8th overall pick, especially because he’s happily accepted any role suggested to him and he wants to do whatever is best for the team. Carson Fulmer has been spending a lot of time working with Driveline this off-season, trying to figure out what he can do to become a more effective pitcher. White Sox fans will get to see if that hard work will pay off during Spring Training and let’s hope it does. Regardless of how well Carson Fulmer performs during Spring Training, I believe that he will be assigned to Charlotte to begin the 2019 season. This will be a big year for him and he has a lot to prove if he wants to be with the White Sox when they open up their contention window.

Zach Thompson is quickly becoming a very intriguing White Sox prospect. The 25-year-old was a 5th round selection out of the University of Texas back in the 2014 MLB Draft. Thompson caught the eye of a lot of White Sox fans after an excellent performance during the 2018 season. Last year, he spent time with Winston-Salem and Birmingham where he posted a combined 1.55 ERA with 76 strikeouts and 29 walks in 75.1 IP. After the season, he was asked to participate in the Arizona Fall League where he saw some tough competition, but he rose to the occasion. In the AFL, Zach Thompson had a 2.70 ERA with 15 strikeouts and 6 walks in 13.1 IP. He will be facing tough competition once again during Spring Training, and I expect Zach Thompson to continue to see success and build off of his great year. He won’t make the jump from Birmingham straight to the MLB out of Spring Training, but if he continues to play the way he did last season, then we might see Zach Thompson make his MLB debut when rosters expand in September.

After being shutdown during the Arizona Fall League season due to fatigue, Zack Burdi will be back in action for Spring Training. The right-hander got back on the mound last season after his recovery from Tommy John surgery and had his rehab assignment in the Arizona Rookie League. In the AZL, Burdi posted a 2.84 ERA with 7 strikeouts and 4 walks in 6.1 IP. Shortly after, he began Fall League play where he had a 0.00 ERA with 5 strikeouts and 1 walk in 4.2 IP. It was great to see Burdi back on the mound and I was fortunate enough to be there for it. I talked to a scout at one of the games that had a radar gun on him and he said that Burdi was sitting around 94 mph with his fastball that day. It’s tough coming back from Tommy John surgery and he has to work hard to get his velocity back up, but Zack Burdi looked pretty good during the AFL when I got to see him. The main thing for Burdi moving forward is getting him more reps on the mound so he can work on getting his velocity back and getting back into pitching shape. If all goes well, Zack Burdi will have a healthy and successful Spring Training, and will follow that up by heading to Charlotte to start the year. If he continues to stay healthy and pitches well, he will make his MLB debut during the 2019 season.

What to expect out of this group during the 2019 season

Overall, the bullpen can be one of the, if not the biggest strength of the White Sox for this upcoming season. They already have a lot of solid pitchers in place, but there are also plenty of very talented guys that will be making their way to the majors this year. There were countless times last season when the bullpen coughed up late leads. I don’t expect that to be the case this year, though. Obviously it will happen on occasion because no bullpen will be perfect, but the White Sox bullpen will make some significant improvements during the 2019 season. Bullpens typically see a lot of different faces throughout the year due to injuries, poor performance, and other reasons. When the White Sox call upon someone to step up and take over someone else’s role, whether that’s temporarily or for a longer duration, I still expect this group to continue to perform at a high level regardless of the situation they are handed.

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Phoenix, AZ resident that was born and raised in Westmont, IL. I’ve always been passionate about sports, whether that’s participating in them or watching them. White Sox, Bears, Bulls, and Blackhawks fan. #TrustTheProspects

2 comments on “White Sox Position Preview: Bullpen

  1. Thanks for including comments on Carson Fulmer. He often seems to be forgotten when discussing future rotation and bullpen options, but there is a reason he was an early first round pick. From a “stuff” perspective he is clearly an MLB pitcher. I believe he will improve his command and be a contributor in 2019.

    • Sean Williams

      Thank you for reading! I’m excited to see what Carson Fulmer can do this season and if Driveline can help turn him into a more effective pitcher. I agree, I think we will see him in the majors this season and let’s hope he sticks around for awhile.

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