MLB: Cleveland Indians at Chicago White Sox

South Side Morning 5: Prospects, Roster Filler, And Avi

1. Lucas Giolito’s 7-inning, 10-strikeout gem in Sunday’s victory over the Rays wasn’t quite the complete game shutout our own Nick Schaefer boldly predicted would happen before the season began, but it represented a glimpse of why scouts and prospect analysts alike were drooling over the 23-year-old’s potential not all that long ago.

James Fegan went in-depth detailing what was working for Giolito over at The Athletic, and the fact that his changeup was so devastating — eight of his 17 swinging strikes were against that pitch — is a great sign going forward. Giolito’s curveball was the pitch that elicited excitement during his time as a prep and minor leaguer who shot up to No. 1 prospect status, but his ability to throw his fastball, curveball, and changeup for a strike is what’s going to make him effective long term.

Giolito’s three starts thus far have shown a lot of promise. The aforementioned piece by James outlines how Rays hitters weren’t prepared for the arsenal he displayed based on video and scouting reports, so there’s reason for caution as teams see him more over the last month of the season and into 2018, but through 20 innings he’s struck out 18 and walked just four — three of which came in one start — while displaying all the characteristics of the pitcher the White Sox thought they were acquiring eight months ago.

2. Giolito wasn’t the only one of the highly touted young White Sox pitchers to flash the goods, as Reynaldo Lopez returned from his minor injury and showed his elite swing-and-miss ability after a slow start in Friday’s loss to Tampa Bay. More important than the results at this point is Lopez showing no signs of the back tightness that forced him out of an August start against the Rangers, but after a slow start he recovered to finish the day by retiring 11 straight Rays and generating 15 swinging strikes in just 85 pitches.

Whether or not Lopez can be a viable starting pitching option in the long term has been and will continue to be a point of debate going forward. But from the standpoint of his ability to challenge major league hitters with his entire arsenal and miss bats, he’s passing the test thus far.

3. Not everything has been sunshine and flowers when it comes to White Sox pitching prospects this season, of course, and with the Sept. 1 roster expansion came our second glimpse of the struggling Carson Fulmer.

Fulmer has just made one appearance since re-joining the White Sox following a disastrous appearance as the 26th man in a doubleheader two weeks ago, picking up his first career win while allowing one run in two innings of work Saturday.

There’s not much to be gleaned from the appearance in which he allowed a walk to Kevin Kiermaier and solo homer to Logan Morrison other than, maybe, the fact that he retired more hitters than he did in his start against the Twins. But where Giolito’s and Lopez’s ascent to the majors represents the duo taking the next step in their respective developments, the last month of the season for Fulmer gives the White Sox an up-close look as they attempt to figure out what, exactly, they have in the former first round pick.

Fulmer’s Triple-A season was disjointed, to say the least. If you had a pendulum with “reliever” on one end and “starter” on the other, the bob would most certainly be swaying more heavily toward the “reliever” side at the moment. But while the Fulmer living up to that potential is less of a necessity given the White Sox recent influx of prospects, he’s still just more than two years into his professional career and the Sox aren’t yet at the point where they’re willing to concede one way or the other.

This month isn’t likely to provide any sweeping conclusions about his trajectory, but a month hands-on work for Fulmer with Don Cooper and the major league coaching staff will go a long way toward helping them figure that out.

4. Fulmer was joined as a Sept. 1 addition to the roster by, to put it kindly, less-than-exciting minor leaguers in David Holmberg, and Rob Brantly, and a day later Rymer Liriano after Leury Garcia was placed on the disabled list.

Holmberg and Brantly are, quite simply, veteran September depth to the pitching staff and catching position, respectively, while Liriano represents a former top prospect given a new opportunity with a new team, not unlike Alen Hanson.

Still 26, the odds of Liriano making any meaningful contributions as a major leaguer are slim, but he joins a long list of players trying to make the most of an opportunity that might not otherwise be afforded them. He was No. 52 on BP’s Top 101 prior to the 2012 season while still with the Padres organization and rose as high as No. 39 on the list pre-2013 with Jason Parks grading him with above average arm, run, and raw power tools, giving him the future potential of a first division corner outfielder.

That hasn’t happened, of course, and 2013 was a long time ago (Jurickson Profar was No. 1 on that list, for perspective), but after solid overall production while spending the entire season at Triple-A Charlotte, he’s being given a shot, and he went 2-for-3 with a double, walk, and his first career home run in Monday’s loss to Cleveland.

Liriano’s most likely to be among the 2017 White Sox most difficult to remember on a Sporcle quiz a few years from now, but it will at the very least be interesting to see what kind of impression he can make in a September audition for which he’s been waiting a very long time.

5. Avisail Garcia’s surprising and very real 2017 season has entered its final month and he hasn’t shown a lot of signs of slowing down. At this point, even with a horrid September he’ll end the season with a career high in basically everything, and you’re looking at a final line of a WARP north of 3.0, a career high in home runs, and an OPS in the mid-.800s in ~500 plate appearances.

The latest surprising thing Garcia did this season came Monday when he got into a jawing match with Cleveland starter Trevor Bauer after fouling off a hanging breaking ball.

We can debate all day who was in the right or wrong, who won the exchange (Bauer did strike him out), or Bauer’s history of having, uh, less-than-stellar opinions, but beyond all that, what was eye opening to me as someone who has destroyed mistakes all season long miss one, and get really pissed off at the fact that he did so.

This is noteworthy in that it was commonplace for Garcia to take a hanging breaking ball and do nothing with it through the first three years of his career. Whatever changed in his approach and ability this season has done something to his confidence to the point where he rarely does so anymore. That confidence translated to the altercation we saw Monday.

In the grand scheme of things, this means very little. Any harmless trash-talking is fun, and dare I say good in sports, so long as it doesn’t end in 90-plus mph fastballs aimed at people’s heads. That’s what happened between Garcia and Bauer Monday. Bauer obviously got the best of him this time around, but that amount of confidence in himself, as unquantifiable as it may be, is a pleasant sight out of the All-Star outfielder facing a former top prospect who has never lived up to his potential.

Lead Photo Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

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