With Cactus League play now in full-swing, White Sox skipper Rick Renteria will be looking to fill out the final couple of spots on the club’s all-but-set Opening Day roster, with the long-man role in the bullpen being one of the few spots up for grabs.
One candidate — maybe even the early favorite, by default — is former first-rounder Carson Fulmer.
Fulmer’s career to this point, has been a roller coaster of excitement and disappointment. Drafted eighth-overall in June of 2015, the former Vanderbilt star has struggled mightily to find any sort of consistency at the major-league level, and is now staring down the barrel of being designated for assignment in a few weeks if he doesn’t do enough this spring to earn a final shot at the big-leagues with the White Sox in 2020.
Fulmer’s spring debut on Sunday was pretty reminiscent of his previous track record, with obvious swing-and-miss stuff on display but once again the inability to control his fastball spelled an early end to his day.
“It felt great,” Fulmer said. “Any opportunity you get to go out there and pitch is great. I put in a lot of work this offseason on a lot of stuff, and saw some pretty good results yesterday. It was nice to get out there, but definitely one to build off of for sure.”
Fulmer opened the bottom of the third inning by striking out Aristides Aquino and Mark Payton out swinging, two bonafide major-league hitters.
Fulmer then issued a pair of free passes to Curt Casali and Kyle Farmer before escaping the inning on a Derek Dietrich ground-out.
The fourth inning saw Fulmer hit former teammate Matt Davidson with a pich, and then walk Scott Schebler before being removed from the game.
Through 94.2 innings of work, Fulmer has pitched to the tune of a 6.26 ERA, and a WHIP of 1.68, with his insanely high BB9 of 6.6 highlighting his crippling struggles with fastball command.
Fulmer has worked tirelessly on his mechanics, what many believe to be his biggest flaw, and says that he feels like where he’s at now allows his fastball to be in the zone far more often that it used to be.
“I wanted to be more directional towards the plate, I feel like yesterday [Sunday] the ball was is in the zone a little bit more than usual. I really worked on my changeup as well, and had a couple strikeouts on that. Compared to previous Spring Training [outings] it was definitely on the better side, and I’m glad it was my first one of many this spring.”
“It’s been really tough, I’ve always been a max-effort kind of guy,” Fulmer said. “I’ve really relied on my body and how it works to get down the hill, but I’ve worked with Coop quite a bit about being more directional towards the plate. I’m a lot more in the zone, I’m getting a lot more swings with my stuff which is really important. It’s been tough, it’s been something that I’ve been working on for a long time and it’s finally starting to click in.”
When asked what the difference is for him this spring, compared to previous ones, Fulmer noted his experience at the major-league level with the White Sox has taught him a lot about managing the speed of the game, and the pressure that comes with it, in particular.
“I think the experience,” Fulmer said. “This organization has given me the opportunity to pitch in the big leagues for the last couple of years, and it’s definitely a different pace of game. The big leagues are very fast, and I think that I’m starting to get a little more acclimated to that part.”
Through all of the discussion surrounding his mechanics, and the constant experimentation that has come along with it, Fulmer seems to have simplified his thinking and according to him, is simply looking to throw and trust his stuff to get outs this spring.
“It can be tough sometimes,” Fulmer said. “You gotta revert back to what works best for you, you gotta throw the pitches that you trust the most and trust the guys that are behind you as well. At times I’ve lost that, but I found it and I feel great out there. It’s definitely been a long journey, but I feel really comfortable and in a place now where I’ve wanted to be for a long time.”
Fulmer noted that his time spent with fellow teammate and pal, Lucas Giolito has been a big positive for him as he tries to find his footing as a professional pitcher.
“Gio [Lucas Giolito] is one of my closer friends on the team, and we spend a lot of time together,” Fulmer said. “I’ve been around him through that change, he trusts his stuff more than anybody, he’s confident and enjoys every time that he’s out there and I think that that advice that he’s given me over the past year or so with me transitioning through a couple of things has been really key. He’s definitely a guy that I want in the dugout when I’m pitching. Great guy to run some things buy, and he’s definitely going to be a big help in helping me turn some stuff around.”
We’re all familiar with the turnaround that Giolito made in 2019. After going from statistically one of the worst starting pitchers in baseball during the 2018 campaign, to the incumbent staff ace in Chicago is on the heels of a dramatic turn-around in 2019.
Now, 26-years-old and full of trials and tribulations in professional baseball, a clear-minded Fulmer has some advice for his 22-year-old self that made his major-league debut just one year after being drafted out of Vanderbilt.
“Slow down,” Fulmer said. “I think sometimes the game got so fast where I didn’t really enjoy the moment. Now, knowing that you control the pace of the game, you’re the motor that runs that game and being able to just enjoy each moment that you have out there is really big for me now.”
Fulmer believes that his newfound maturity, and his work this winter on the mental side of the game will help him finally put it all together this season.
“I’ve done a lot of work with a mental coach this offseason,” Fulmer said. “I have the ability to go out there and compete and have success. I’ve had some really good stints in the big-leagues where I’ve had a lot of success, and I think that the mental side of the game was the one side that was missing for me.”
Fulmer believes in his stuff, and he’s got plenty of it when he’s right both physically and mentally, but the consistency has always been his demise, and will continue to be such unless his newfound confidence translates to the diamond.
“I’m definitely mentally in a better place than I have been the last couple of years.”
As I’ve opined previously, the bullpen will be one of the more competitive areas to pay attention to this spring, with very little about it still left to discussion.
If Fulmer has finally figured out both sides of his game, he’s going to still have to overcome the stiffest battle for an Opening Day roster spot that he’s faced yet as a member of the White Sox.
As for the 2020 White Sox, Fulmer — who has spent some time on some pretty thin rebuilding White Sox teams — see’s the cohesiveness in the clubhouse as a strong advantage for the team, and believes that they can compete for a World Series Championship.
“I’m excited, the talent in this room is pretty unbelievable,” Fulmer said. “Everyone is buying into one goal, and that’s winning a championship.”