It feels as if its’s been a century since White Sox pitcher Carson Fulmer made his major league debut promptly after the All-Star Break in 2016. It was July 17th, the White Sox were clinging to a 45-46 record, and it still seemed as though there was a shred of hope left in the idea of salvaging the season at it’s halfway point. Sure, James Shields had been a bust in his first outing (and more to follow), but Fulmer was surely a nice little surprise.
Though he struck out the first major league hitter he faced in Albert Pujols, the runs tallied, and after just 11 2/3 innings in the big leagues Fulmer found himself packing his bags for Charlotte with a 8.49 ERA on his hands.
After Fulmer’s short foray in the big leagues, I wrote about how perhaps the White Sox had called up Fulmer too early, and in turn brought an unfinished product into the middle of a chaotic new atmosphere at the wrong time. This wasn’t a major league ready Fulmer the White Sox were witnessing.
As the Tribune’s Colleen Kane pointed out last month, White Sox general manager Rick Hahn wouldn’t commit to the idea that Fulmer’s debut had been rushed, but instead “he did acknowledge he was brought to Chicago before his minor-league development was complete.” Simply stated, yes, he was called up too early despite the season and team being just days away from being labeled “mired in mediocrity.”
It was clear that Fulmer was not a bust. He managed to strike out 10 batters in 11 2/3 innings of work. However, the rest of Fulmer’s line during those 11 innings (he allowed 11 hits, 2 home runs, 7 walks, and 2 hit batsmen during his work with the White Sox) simply flesh out that Fulmer’s lack of ability to control his pitches and command the strike zone were major issues that needed to be worked on before he could be seriously considered for a permanent spot on the 25-man roster.
Fulmer immediately began working with then-Charlotte pitching coach Richard Dotson (now the minor league pitching coordinator) on his mechanics upon his arrival in Triple-A. The improvements began to show as Fulmer pitched 16 innings in Charlotte, allowing just 5 walks while striking out 14.
“He has a great tempo, but make sure you’re controlling it,” Dotson said. “You can’t get too quick, too fast because we rush out and get under the pitches.
“And making sure he’s staying tall. Yeah, you’re using your legs, but we’re not sinking down to use our legs. I understand drop and drive. I played with a guy who was the best drop-and-drive guy I ever saw, Tom Seaver.”
Staying tall has been a common theme heard around White Sox camp this spring for their pitchers, and it’s mechanical changes such as these that can be the make-or-break difference between a pitcher who can command the raw stuff he brings to the table or not. “Staying tall and really just getting the ball down,” Fulmer said. “That’s the most important thing. Keep the ball down and you will have success. He definitely helped me.”
It’s unclear as to whether or not the White Sox still see a future for Fulmer in the starting rotation, and having shored up their depth with Derek Holland and having a healthy Miguel Gonzalez, it might be a better bet to have Fulmer come back to the majors in the bullpen — a common right of passage for pitchers developed in this organization. However, if Fulmer’s stuff plays better in short stints in the bullpen than in the rotation, Fulmer could end up in a new role with his starting days behind him.
Fulmer was drafted in the first round for a reason, he has a fastball that topped out at 95 mph in August and a cutter that was responsible for six of the 10 Ks he added to his record in the majors. Fulmer simply took center stage too quickly, and with the adjustments he’s made working with Dotson, he will be set to start out the 2017 season in the rotation at Charlotte, showing the White Sox just how much he has truly improved.
Photo courtesy of Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports