Looking for a rare strong second half push, the White Sox are throwing all of their internal options into the fire. Justin Morneau was activated from the disabled list and Carson Fulmer was called up from Double-A, all in one aggressive swoop.
Morneau, 35, has put up the numbers I would expect from a 35-year-old Alex Avila during his very short rehab/late Spring Training stint: .174/.321/.261 in a mere eight games of action. He speculated earlier that he might need as few as 30 plate appearances to get ready, he got 28.
Perhaps during some junctures of my time writing on the Sox, I have earned a reputation for being critical, or at least skeptical of every single thing they do. Perhaps. But, I am strangely unconcerned with any of this.
Unsurprisingly, much of Morneau’s first game action in several months found him without his feet fully underneath facing guys in mid-season form. He might similarly struggle in his first week or so with the big club, but he’s a professional bat who has hit .276/.334/.433 since 2011, when his post-concussion issues emerged, and that’s including his awful first season back. He’s not a franchise-saver, or even an offense-revitalizer, but he’s an upgrade over the completely untenable Avisail situation, and if he’s physically ready to play, then it’s time for him to play.
In entirely different circumstances, top prospect — if Tim Anderson is no longer a prospect (he is) — Carson Fulmer is coming up to help a bullpen that has been using Michael Ynoa, Chris Beck, and the worst stretch of Matt Albers‘ career with regularity. Fulmer’s promotion despite a very rocky season in Double-A overall is being supported with a lot of pointing at his 54 strikeouts over 17 walks (and just one home run allowed) over his last 41 innings; a stretch that encompassed seven starts.
His Futures Game appearance showed Fulmer showing off some of the rougher mechanics of his college days and without the usual ‘stand tall’ focus typical of Sox pitchers, and it’s an open question to how much of that was intentionally allowed, or was done in anticipation of major league bullpen work, or was simply Fulmer not being comfortable with the adjustments. He made mention to reporters of feeling that his delivery had been slowed down too much, but there’s also a question of whether Fulmer’s current delivery allows for a long, healthy career.
All of which is besides the point of him getting called up. The Sox need someone who can miss bats in their bullpen, and there’s not really any worry about Fulmer’s development being stunted or bad habits being allowed to fester under Don Cooper, not that working out of the bullpen to transition to the majors is a particularly worrisome path in general.
There’s danger in looking at these moves as major. Fulmer has a not-insignificant chance of being very wild early on and needing a while before he settles in comfortably to bullpen work, but could just as easily remove the immediate need for Zach Putnam‘s return. These are not additions on the level of Carlos Gonzalez, Jay Bruce or even Charlie Blackmon, and don’t do a ton to mitigate concern that the Sox don’t have the horses to undo significant gaps between them and seemingly superior clubs like the Indians, Blue Jays, Red Sox, or even the Astros. But these are moves that do make the team immediately better on their own, so they don’t necessarily need to be weighed down by larger existential concerns.
Coats being sent down makes sense, as he didn’t show anything in very scant playing time, and if the Sox aren’t going to place any confidence in giving him a real shot, he can go ahead and resume mashing in Charlotte.
On the other hand, Garcia, virtually unplayable on defense and in the depths of his worst offensive stretch of an already underwhelming career, is not a very useful bench option. He’s been so bad this year that his one pliable skill — solid numbers against lefties — has been dragged below-average for his career because he’s hit .175/.275/.267 against them this year. Single-year platoon splits are mostly noise, but Garcia struggling at the plate is usually a constant. He’s not someone who can come in and do anything specifically well. He’s basically the fourth outfielder behind J.B. Shuck with Austin Jackson‘s return becoming indefinite, but his only appeal is to play him consistently and hope he can realize his larger potential, and if the Sox have given up on that, they should give up on him in general. But then again, any hope for 2016 has to be rooted in the idea that the Sox are not done.
There’s also no word yet on how the Sox are handling Sunday’s spot starter situation if Fulmer is exclusively in the bullpen. Anthony Ranaudo has been “successful,” but also struck out only 46 in 71.2 innings in Charlotte, and just pitched Thursday. The rest of the current Charlotte Knights pitching staff is even more disheartening than 2016 Anthony Ranaudo.
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