As the calendar has rapidly approached the second half of August with September on the horizon, baseball has nearly reached the official checkpoint of every MLB season when teams make their “September callups”. The feeling is in the air, with folks already seeing Braves top prospect Dansby Swanson making his major league debut on Wednesday, and next White Sox hopeful Zack Burdi not far behind.
So why then, after a somewhat early arrival of White Sox top pitching prospect Carson Fulmer, would the team abruptly option him back to Triple-A Charlotte in August, with a vacancy left in the rotation by the injured Miguel Gonzalez?
On paper, the move looks ludicrous. Fulmer has spent his entire playing career–before landing in the White Sox bullpen–as a starter; that’s who he is, that’s what he is. With the 2016 White Sox season cooked past the point of well done, shouldn’t this be the perfect opportunity for the team to let Fulmer explore his development as a starter in the big leagues?
It sure seems like a good idea, but maybe it isn’t. Using Fulmer in a major league rotation before he’s ready for such a burden, even with a team that can offer a sufficient amount of room for error for him, is simply skipping a crucial step for Fulmer, or rushing his progress, if you will.
“It’s hard to come into the big leagues and have success right away.” Fulmer told the media in Kansas City. “You face experienced hitters in pro ball, guys who have seen very good pitching for a long time,’’ he said. “They know tendencies, a pitcher’s strengths and you look at that and say, all I can do is throw strike one and be capable of throwing any of your pitches in any count.’’
It’s the experience and knowledge Fulmer has procured from these situations that will aid him upon his return to Charlotte, where he won’t be vying to attempt to perfect too many things at once, all while trying to strikeout hitters like Albert Pujols again.
But it’s also those moments, such as striking out Pujols in his first major league appearance, that will give Fulmer the confidence and ability to understand that he has the stuff to do stuff like that, and with regularity. As Fulmer said himself, it’s hard to come to the big leagues and have success right away.
“I’m learning more up here than I ever have,” Fulmer said during the White Sox series in Miami. He’s learned quite a bit during his short time here, and now it’s time to slow the pace, let the lessons sink in, tinker with the things he noticed needed tinkering.
Control has been the biggest issue for Fulmer during his time in the majors; something quite common for rookie pitchers. He is leaving the majors holding onto an unsightly 8.49 ERA, and a 13.2 percent walk rate. But his potential shows through with a solid 18.9 percent strikeout rate, and a DRA of 4.91, over three and a half runs below his ERA.
“He has the stuff, the breaking ball, but it’s going to be if he’ll locate.” Manager Robin Ventura said of Fulmer.
Every word Fulmer spoke of being in the bullpen simply implied that no matter what was asked of him, all he wished to do was help his team succeed in any way possible. But one can’t seem to fight the thought that it seemed as though the transition from a lifetime of being a starter to being placed in the the same-yet-different role of a reliever was simply one more thing added to Fulmer’s quickly crowding major league plate.
“Some guys like the relieving role,” Fulmer told the media. “Obviously being a starter, doing it for such a long time, I grew a liking to it. But my role right here is to be a reliever and help us win as much as possible.” Fulmer said of his time spent in relief.
Much of the conclusions that can be drawn from Fulmer’s time spent in the majors simply boil down to “Right place, wrong time.” Getting a glimpse of what will eventually be a place for Fulmer to flourish in the future, perhaps even in the near future, will serve as an important benchmark in his development.
“When he first came up, everything went pretty fast for him.” Ventura said of Fulmer’s debut. The major league version of slowing it down as a pitcher comes in the form of being relegated to the bullpen, something that the White Sox simply identified as the wrong fit for Fulmer. Fulmer’s demotion didn’t mean “You weren’t successful”, it’s the White Sox way of saying “It isn’t the proper environment for you to successfully continue to develop as a starter in.”
It won’t be long until Fulmer sees U.S. Cellular Field again, and likely when he does, he’ll be not much older, but certainly wiser.
Photo courtesy of Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports