Meet the Prospects: Carson Fulmer

Meet the Prospects: Carson Fulmer

The White Sox rebuild is in full swing. While it might still be a year or two before the big league team is expected to start competing for championships, the minor leagues are stocked with highly touted talent fans will be eagerly following in 2018. With that in mind, it's time to Meet the Prospects and get to know the future of the South Side.

Carson Fulmer

Fulmer, the 24-year-old right-handed hurler, looks to be on the verge of getting his chance to show the White Sox what he can do as a starter at the major league level.

In other words, he won't be a prospect for much longer.

A Florida native, Fulmer was the eighth-overall pick in the 2015 draft. After pitching at Vanderbilt University, he made eight 2015 starts at Class A Winston-Salem, posting a 2.05 ERA in 22 innings. Things didn't go quite as well in his first full professional season in 2016. He made 17 starts at Double-A Birmingham, turning in a 4.76 ERA there. He made four more at Triple-A Charlotte and had a 3.94 ERA in a mere 16 innings. He also got some work out of the big league bullpen that year, struggling to the tune of 11 runs surrendered in 11.2 innings of work.

Fulmer's ERA continued to jump in 2017, all the way up to 5.79 in his 25 starts at Charlotte. He again got some big league time, though, starting in five of his seven appearances with the White Sox. Throw out the first start, an emergency spot start in one half of a doubleheader in which he got shelled, and the late-season results are a lot more promising. In his final four starts of the season, all in September, Fulmer gave up just three runs in 17.1 innings, striking out 16 batters.

Fulmer figures to be given a shot at a spot in the White Sox rotation this spring, as the team is eager to see what they have and see if Fulmer can carve out his own spot in a crowded projected rotation of the future.

As of their most recent rankings, MLB Pipeline had Fulmer rated as the No. 9 prospect in the White Sox organization.

Get to know Fulmer in the video above.

Return of Miguel Gonzalez brings White Sox starting rotation into focus for 2018

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USA TODAY

Return of Miguel Gonzalez brings White Sox starting rotation into focus for 2018

The pitchers who will make up the White Sox rotation of the future will spend much of 2018 developing in the minor leagues. But the pitchers who will make up the White Sox rotation of the present came into much clearer focus Thursday.

The White Sox welcomed Miguel Gonzalez back to the South Side with a one-year deal. The pitcher who was dealt away to the Texas Rangers in a trade last August wasn't out of town for long.

Gonzalez figures to all but finalize the five-man group that will leave Glendale, Arizona, and start the season as the White Sox starting staff. Rotation spots are locked in for James Shields, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, with general manager Rick Hahn indicating last month that Carson Fulmer will be in the mix, too. Gonzalez makes five.

Sure, there are things that could throw that group into question. The health of Carlos Rodon remains a mystery, and Hahn has said on multiple occasions that Rodon could be recovered from September shoulder surgery by Opening Day or perhaps not until June. Rodon missed most of the first three months of the 2017 season while recovering from injury, and there's a possibility that 2018 could see a repeat.

If Rodon is healthy, of course he'll be a part of the White Sox starting rotation. And the possibility exists that the White Sox could sign another veteran along with Gonzalez. But more likely is that they want to see what they have in Fulmer, 2015's eighth-overall pick who has just five big league starts under his belt.

Signing Gonzalez also decreases the likelihood that a highly rated pitching prospect like Michael Kopech or Alex Hansen could do enough to make the team out of spring training, though something like that happening might not have been very likely to begin with, considering the rebuilding White Sox are in no rush to bring their wealth of prospects to the majors ahead of schedule.

Gonzalez is a solid addition to the rotation, as White Sox fans know. He had a nice 2016 season, posting a 3.73 ERA in his first campaign on the South Side. Prior to being traded last summer, Gonzalez had a 4.31 ERA in 22 starts. He was terrific in his final five starts with the White Sox, posting a 1.85 ERA over 34 innings. He struggled in Texas, tagged for 16 runs in his five starts with the Rangers.

But Gonzalez's value is increased by his presence in the clubhouse, as well, a veteran leader for a team and specifically a pitching staff that is young and is expected to only get younger as the rebuild keeps moving along. Gonzalez could also once more be a midseason trade candidate should he perform well. He could once again fetch Hahn a piece to help deepen the farm system during this rebuilding effort.

So with Gonzalez's addition, the White Sox biggest roster mystery is seemingly solved. Barring any unexpected happenings, the rotation and starting lineup appear set. And with Hahn's acquisitions of four potential bullpen pieces — Joakim Soria, Luis Avilan, Thyagio Vieira and Jose Ruiz — there figures to be plenty of depth with which to form a relief corps.

White Sox biggest roster mystery for Opening Day: Who will round out the starting rotation?

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USA TODAY

White Sox biggest roster mystery for Opening Day: Who will round out the starting rotation?

While projecting the White Sox 2020 roster has become a favorite pastime of South Side baseball fans, finalizing the 2018 roster is a much different exercise.

Most of that group is somewhat locked into place as carryovers from 2017. Welington Castillo, the lone position player added so far this offseason, figures to have brought the everyday lineup into focus, joining Jose Abreu, Yoan Moncada, Tim Anderson and Yolmer Sanchez on the infield. The outfield looks to shake out like this: Avisail Garcia in right field, Leury Garcia in center field and Nicky Delmonico seeming likely to get the first crack in left field.

Rick Hahn has already added four guys to the mix out in the bullpen: Joakim Soria, Luis Avilan, Thyago Vieira and Jose Ruiz. They’ll join the likes of Aaron Bummer, Danny Farquhar, Jace Fry, Gregory Infante, Nate Jones and Juan Minaya in competing for those relief spots.

Three starting-rotation spots seem set with James Shields, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez all back from last season. And Hahn said at the Winter Meetings that pending any further additions Carson Fulmer would likely be a part of that five-man unit, as well. With Carlos Rodon’s health status up in the air, however, that last spot in the starting rotation is a bit of a mystery.

So here are five guys who might round out the starting rotation:

Carlos Rodon

As referenced, Rodon's return date is unknown at this point as he continues to recover from shoulder surgery. According to Hahn both in September and last month at the Winter Meetings, Rodon might be ready by Opening Day or he might not be ready until June. It's yet to be determined when he'll be back on a big league mound.

If Rodon can recover in time for the season-opener, great. The fifth-starter mystery is solved. Not only would that best-case scenario go a long way in alleviating some of the long-term questions about Rodon's health — it’d be much better optically than a second straight year of missing the first two months of the season — but it would give the White Sox the top-of-the-rotation pitcher they think Rodon can be from Day 1 of the season.

Rodon showed flashes of brilliance when healthy last season. He recorded double-digit strikeouts in three of his 12 starts, including an 11-strikeout performance in four innings against the Cubs. And coming off of that game, he posted a 3.00 ERA over his final seven starts before getting shut down with the injury.

But that injury also has the potential to keep him out well into the season. He made his 2017 debut on June 28, and it seems that could repeat itself in 2018. If he’s healthy, he’ll 100-percent be a part of the rotation. But at this point, Rodon being healthy by the start of the season is anything but 100 percent.

Michael Kopech

While the White Sox will likely let Kopech continue to develop at Triple-A Charlotte to start 2018, what if the guy who was baseball’s top pitching prospect at one point last season blows the competition away in spring training? Can he crack the 25-man roster out of camp?

Such a performance wouldn’t necessarily be surprising after the jaw-dropping numbers he put up in the minors last season. In 22 starts with Double-A Birmingham, Kopech turned in a 2.87 ERA and struck out 155 hitters in 119.1 innings of work. He jumped up to Charlotte at season’s end and struck out 17 guys in three starts there.

Though Hahn & Co. surely have a plan in place for Kopech, it’s well within the realm of possibility that the guy who shattered that plan for 2017 could do so again in 2018, have a dynamite spring and make the team.

Heck, it doesn’t sound at all crazy to suggest that Kopech could right now be the best pitcher at any level in the White Sox organization. So why not give him a shot? The answer, of course, is that there’s no rush — both from developmental and financial standpoints. But if he’s good enough, he could force the White Sox to change their timeline, as he's done already since joining the team last winter.

Dylan Covey

The internal options get a little less exciting from here. Covey was not great last season. He posted a 7.71 ERA over his 70 big league innings, obviously not what he and the White Sox wanted in his first year in the majors.

Covey started in 12 of his 18 appearances, but his numbers weren’t drastically different as a starter and a reliever: 7.76 ERA as a starter, 8.04 ERA as a reliever.

Thing is, there's not much else to choose from on the active roster, and if the White Sox head to Glendale with what they've got — and decide to keep Kopech in the minors and Rodon's not healthy yet — Covey seems to be a logical option.

That being said, he might have shown all he can show at this point. In his last four starts of 2017, he was repeatedly tagged for runs by opposing lineups, combining to give up 16 runs in 21 innings for a 6.86 ERA. Even if the White Sox are planning on the bulk of their future rotation to still be developing in the minors this season, performances like that — seen far too often from the likes of Derek Holland and Mike Pelfrey last year — will have damaging effects on the rest of the pitching staff, impacting the bullpen safety net for guys like Giolito and Lopez, who still have some developing to do at the major league level.

Someone else

This seems to be the likeliest option.

The free-agent market has been ridiculously, unbelievably slow this winter, meaning there's been little indication of which guys will be available for the White Sox come the later stages of the offseason. But signing a veteran starting pitcher with the option to trade him later in the season makes too much sense for a rebuilding team like the White Sox. They tried it last year with Holland and Pelfrey, and their performances made midseason trades impossible. Remember, though, that the White Sox did flip Miguel Gonzalez, a move they could make with a veteran starter sometime this summer if everything pans out.

Obviously, with so few free agents signed across baseball, there are tons of options. During the Winter Meetings, I made up a list of 15 guys who fit the bill. Well, only two of those guys, Jhoulys Chacin and Yovani Gallardo, have signed since. That leaves Clay Buchholz, Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey, Scott Feldman, Jaime Garcia, the aforementioned Gonzalez, John Lackey, Francisco Liriano, Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez, Hector Santiago, Chris Tillman and Jason Vargas all available, not to mention plenty of others not on that list.

Like they did with Holland and Pelfrey in 2017, the White Sox could sign a couple veterans, bring them to spring training and insert them into the rotation. The best-case scenario is a strong few months that makes the veteran an attractive trade candidate and could fetch Hahn another piece or two the further the rebuild. The middle-case scenario is the veteran eats up innings, keeping the bullpen healthy enough to support still-developing pitchers like Giolito and Lopez. The worst-case scenario is the veteran pitches like Holland and Pelfrey did last season but does so during a campaign in which the White Sox aren't expected to compete for a championship, keeping the seat warm for one of the many young arms developing in the minor leagues.

Again, going that route seems to make too much sense for the White Sox not to do it. But the winter freeze on the hot stove needs to thaw before we find out who that veteran starter is.