Slavko Bekovic

Strong finish to 2017 brings hope Carson Fulmer can right the ship in the White Sox 2018 rotation

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USA TODAY

Strong finish to 2017 brings hope Carson Fulmer can right the ship in the White Sox 2018 rotation

If you asked Carson Fulmer about his confidence on, say, Aug. 22, 2017, the answer he would have given would differ greatly from the answer he gave before SoxFest some five months later.

Aug. 22 was the day Fulmer was optioned back to Triple-A Charlotte. It was the day after his first major league appearance of the season went very, very poorly.

Fulmer made his first major league start for the White Sox, but things went bad — and quickly. He faced only 12 batters. Even worse, he recorded only four outs.

Six runs allowed — all earned — including a pair of home runs to the Minnesota Twins, and Fulmer’s second major league stint lasted just hours.

It wasn’t a confidence-builder for him, and certainly not for the White Sox front office, considering Fulmer’s previous struggles as well.

After the White Sox drafted Fulmer out of Vanderbilt with the eighth overall selection in the 2015 draft, the expectation was that he would follow in the footsteps of Carlos Rodon and Chris Sale and become a big league contributor quickly. Rodon made just nine minor league appearances in 2014 before cementing a rotation spot in 2015. Sale made 11 minor league appearances in 2010 before being called up to the White Sox just a few months after he was drafted.

It hasn’t quite worked that way for Fulmer.

Entering the 2016 season, MLB Pipeline ranked Fulmer as the No. 38 prospect in baseball. He posted a 4.63 in the minor leagues that season, only to earn his first call-up in July. His major league career started with a strikeout of Albert Pujols, but it went downhill from there. Fulmer made eight more appearances out of the White Sox bullpen, posting an 8.49 ERA over 11.2 innings.

To start 2017, his prospect ranking dipped to No. 71 as his ERA ballooned to 5.79 in the minors. What was once a shiny new toy in the White Sox farm system lost some of its luster.

But Fulmer had one of the strongest finishes to the 2017 campaign of any White Sox player.

“The prior years were something I had to go through in order to have success at that level,” Fulmer said. “I started figuring some stuff out towards the end of the year.”

The results proved that.

After getting called back up to the majors in September, Fulmer posted a 1.64 ERA in six appearances to close out the season. Four of those appearances were starts.

While some prognosticators peg Fulmer as an arm for the back end of the bullpen long-term, he still hopes to stick in the rotation.

“I want to start. I’ve always been really driven to start,” he said. “I want to take the ball and end with the ball at the end of the game.”

Despite his strong finish, Fulmer has yet to cement a position on the starting staff for 2018, though it certainly seems he is an early favorite for a rotation spot while Rodon rehabs from shoulder surgery.

“At this point I’m just trying to get myself ready to come prepared and win that job out of spring (training),” Fulmer said. “I want to start. I want to continue with that role. And hopefully the organization continues to give me the opportunity.”

And if he performs like he did in September rather than what he did in August, the opportunities should be plentiful.

“I’m ready. I definitely have the confidence to go out there and compete and give our team the best chance to win.”

Lucas Giolito has his sights set on 200 innings in 2018

Lucas Giolito has his sights set on 200 innings in 2018

Last August, Lucas Giolito was impressing White Sox fans with his performance on the mound. A few months later, it’s the fans who are now impressing Giolito.

“White Sox fans are just so dedicated,” the right-hander said while making sales calls to season-ticket holders a couple weeks ago. “They’re not just going and watching baseball, they’re watching baseball. It’s going to drive me to continue to try and improve and make them happy as well.”

Following a 2.38 ERA over seven starts in 2017, the 23-year old Giolito now figures to be a mainstay in the rotation, but his goals are much higher than just being a major league regular.

Giolito told fans over the phone that he hopes to pitch 200 innings in 2018 — a lofty goal considering only 15 pitchers were able to do so in the majors last season.

“That’s one of my little personal goals for the season,” he said. “When you’re a starting pitcher and throwing 200 innings, it means you’re doing some good things for the team.”

There is a certain level of accountability in Giolito when he speaks. And despite seven strong starts, he acknowledged that there is still work to be done. He has much higher expectations for himself and said last season’s promising finish is only a jumping-off point for his future.

“The goal is to have a full season in the big leagues and have some success,” he said.

And with players' camradery a common theme during SoxFest weekend, success might come a bit sooner than anticipated on the South Side.

“We’ve come together, we’re very, very close, and I think that we have a good chance to surprise some people this year,” Giolito proclaimed. “With Ricky (Renteria) at the helm, it’s just a really, really good environment.”

Just like the environment that Giolito and the White Sox are hoping to have at Guaranteed Rate Field for many summers to come.

If Michael Kopech and Eloy Jimenez spent 2018 in the majors, what would their production look like?

If Michael Kopech and Eloy Jimenez spent 2018 in the majors, what would their production look like?

It’s no secret that the White Sox and their fans are hoping to see both Eloy Jimenez and Michael Kopech in the big leagues in 2018. And according to one full-season projection system, it seems that the computers agree that both will be MLB contributors very soon.

FanGraphs’ Steamer600 projections forecast what MLB hitters would do over 600 plate appearances and what pitchers would do over 200 innings – and both Jimenez and Kopech are close to MLB-ready.

Jimenez, MLB.com’s 5th ranked prospect, is projected to provide a 1.9 offensive WAR and Kopech, MLB.com’s 10th ranked prospect, would account for 1.4 WAR over the course of a full season.

So what does that mean?

Here are some comparable MLB players from 2017 in offensive Wins Above Replacement for Jimenez:

Jackie Bradley Jr., BOS – 1.9 (541 PA) 

Jedd Gyorko, STL – 1.9 (481 PA)

Andrew Benintendi, BOS – 1.9 (658 PA)

Yasiel Puig, LAD – 1.9 (570 PA)

Salvador Perez, KC – 1.9 (499 PA)

Very solid company, considering those five players combined for an average OPS of .788. The Steamer600 projections peg Jimenez for a .770 OPS over 600 plate appearances.

The full forecast is as follows: a .267 batting average, an on-base percentage of .317 and a .453 slugging percentage to go along with 23 home runs.

Meanwhile, Kopech might be a bit further away from being an impact player with a projected WAR of 1.4 over 200 innings.

Here are some MLB WAR comparisons from 2017 for Kopech:

Julio Teheran, ATL – 1.6 (188.1 IP)

Lucas Giolito, CHW – 1.5 (45.1 IP)

Dellin Betances, NYY – 1.5 (59.2 IP)

Miguel Gonzalez, CHW/TEX – 1.5 (156.0 IP)

Greg Holland, COL – 1.4 (44.2 IP)

As you can see, the comparisons are not nearly as promising for Kopech as they are for Jimenez. The comparable range is mostly made up of late-inning relievers or middle-of-the-pack starting pitchers.

With a 100 mile-per-hour fastball and wipeout slider come the occasional control issues, and that is where the Steamer600 projections hurt Kopech the most, with a forecasted walk rate of 5.4 walks per 9 innings pitched.

The full forecast for Kopech includes a 4.84 ERA with 216 strikeouts over 32 starts with 32 home runs allowed. 

Whether these projections come close to reality or not, having Kopech and Jimenez on the Major League doorstep is sure to give the White Sox rebuild yet another boost in the coming season.