White Sox

Carson Fulmer gaining confidence in White Sox camp

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Carson Fulmer gaining confidence in White Sox camp

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Carson Fulmer’s jitters haven’t gone away, but the White Sox 2015 first round pick is starting to feel more comfortable as he works through major league lineups during spring training.

Well, through one major league lineup — both of Fulmer’s Cactus League starts have come against the defending World Series champion Kansas City Royals. He allowed one run on two hits with a walk and two strikeouts Thursday at Camelback Ranch, facing a lineup headlined by Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez.

“The butterflies are still there from getting amped up for a start,” Fulmer said. “I felt more comfortable with it. It was my second time facing them and I’m getting a good feel of how the pace of a game goes."

The White Sox, right now, don’t see Fulmer in their 2016 plans, though they certainly aren’t ruling out the Vanderbilt product forcing the issue this summer. He excelled in 23 innings — a small sample size, of course — last year, posting a 1.96 ERA with 26 strikeouts, nine walks and two home runs allowed.

If and when Fulmer does reach the major leagues, his experience in these spring training games could come in handy. Specifically on Thursday, he fell behind Hosmer to lead off the second inning, worked back to a 3-2 count and then walked the Royals first baseman on a fastball in off the plate that he called a “great miss.”

“He has a good eye for pitches like that and let it go,” Fulmer said. “He’s a disciplined hitter and one of the best in the game. “For me, I can build off of that so next time I face him, hopefully I have a different mindset going into it. I took a lot from that at-bat.”

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The walk wasn’t ideal, of course, but that fastball was a more aggressive miss in the spot he wanted to throw it. Fulmer said he’s growing to understand that having a top-quality arsenal of pitches — as he does — isn’t enough to make it at the major league level.

“If you don’t have an approach and don’t place it in the right spot, you’re going to get hit,” Fulmer said. “Attacking early, getting ahead obviously is the job of a pitcher, but quality pitches in the zone and putting it in the zone where they’re going to take swings at it.”

The Royals roughed up Fulmer for three runs on five hits in two innings on Saturday, so his start Thursday can be considered an improvement results-wise. There were a couple of hard-hit outs in there, though the run he gave up came on a bloop double, wild pitch and errant throw to third base.

While manager Robin Ventura traveled to Surprise for the other half of the White Sox split squad action Thursday, he said before leaving Camelback Ranch that he hoped Fulmer would be a little calmer his second time out.

“Hopefully it can just be a little easier,” Ventura said. “Last time he was out there he was amped up. Even for our guys, Carlos (Rodon) last year, it gets a little easier as they go out more times and have the opportunity to go out there and relax a little bit."

[SHOP: Gear up for the season ahead, White Sox fans!]

At this nascent juncture in his career, every start will bring something new for Fulmer. But he already felt more settled in spring training start No. 2, which comes across as a small-yet-positive step in his overall development.

“I feel like I’m getting really comfortable with it each time I go out there,” Fulmer said. “I’ll just take the positives from this outing and move forward on to the next.” 

Lucas Giolito relieved to be able to shed No. 1 pitching prospect label

Lucas Giolito relieved to be able to shed No. 1 pitching prospect label

GLENDALE, AZ — You don’t need a scale to see that Lucas Giolito lost some weight in the offseason. As he walks around Camelback Ranch, he just seems lighter. These pounds were shedded thanks to a certain label that has been detached from his name and his being.

“Lucas Giolito, number-one pitching prospect in baseball” is no more.

“Definitely. Big time relief. I carried that title for a while,” Giolito told NBC Sports Chicago. “It was kind of up and down. I was (ranked) 1 at one point. I dropped. I always paid attention to it a little bit moving through the minor leagues.”

Which for any young hurler is risky business. The “best pitching prospect” designation can mess with a pitcher’s psyche and derail a promising career. Giolito was walking a mental tightrope reading those rankings, but after making it back to the majors last season with the White Sox and succeeding, the moniker that seemed to follow him wherever he went has now vanished.

“Looking back on it, that stuff is pretty cool," Giolito said. "It can pump you up and make you feel good about yourself, but in the end the question is, what are you going to do at the big league level? Can you contribute to a team? I’m glad that I finally have the opportunity to do that and all that other stuff is in the rear view."

This wasn’t the case when the White Sox acquired Giolito from the Washington Nationals in the Adam Eaton trade in December 2016. When he arrived at spring training last year, he was carrying around tons of extra baggage in his brain that was weighing him down. Questions about his ability and makeup weren’t helping as he tried living up to such high expectations.

“Yeah, I’d say especially with the trade coming off 2016 where I didn’t perform well at all that year," Giolito said. "I got traded over to a new organization, I still have this label on me of being a top pitching prospect while I’m going to a new place, I’m trying to impress people but at the same time I had a lot of things off mechanically I was trying to fix. Mentally, I was not in the best place as far as pitching went. It definitely added some extra pressure that I didn’t deal with well for a while."

How bad was it for Giolito? Here are some of the thoughts that were scrambling his brain during spring training and beyond last season.

“I saw I wasn’t throwing as hard. I was like, ’Where did my velocity go?’ Oh, it’s my mechanics. My mechanics are bad. I need to fix those,” Giolito said. “Then I’m trying to make adjustments. Why can’t I make this adjustment? It compounds. It just builds and builds and builds and can weigh on you a ton. I was 22 turning 23 later in the year. I didn’t handle it very well. I put a lot of pressure on myself to fix all these different things about my performance, my pitching and trying to do it all in one go instead of just relaxing and remembering, ‘Hey, what am I here for? Why do I play the game?’”

Still, pitching coach Don Cooper wanted to see what he had in his young prospect. So last February, he scheduled him to make his White Sox debut against the Cubs in front of a packed house in Mesa.

“It was kind of like a challenge," Giolito said. "They fill the stadium over there. I’m like, ‘Alright here we go."

Giolito gave up one run, three hits, walked one and struck out two in two innings against the Cubs that day.

“I pitched OK," he said. "I think I gave up a home run to Addison Russell. At the same time, I remember that game like I was forcing things. I might have pitched okay, but I was forcing the ball over the plate instead of relaxing, trusting and letting it happen which is kind of my mantra now. I’m saying that all the time, just having confidence in yourself and letting it go.”

A conversation in midseason with Charlotte Knights pitching coach Steve McCatty, suggested by Cooper, helped turn Giolito’s season around. The lesson for Giolito: whatever you have on the day you take the mound is what you have. Don’t force what isn’t there.

Fortunately for Giolito he has extra pitches in his arsenal, so if the curveball isn’t working (which it rarely did when he came up to the majors last season) he can go to his change-up, fastball, slider, etc.

It’s all part of the learning process, both on the mound and off it. Setbacks are coming. Giolito has already had his share. More will be on the way.

“You want to set expectations for yourself. You want to try and achieve great goals,” he said. “At the same time, it is a game of failure. There’s so much that you have to learn through experience whether that be success or failure. Especially going through the minor leagues. There’s so much that you have to learn and a lot of it is about development. It’s a crazy ride for sure.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Rick Hahn gives an update on the state of the White Sox rebuild

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Rick Hahn gives an update on the state of the White Sox rebuild

In this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, Danny Parkins (670 The Score), Chris Bleck (ESPN 1000) and Scott King (WGN Radio) join David Kaplan on the panel.

Ryan Pace’s offseason begins. Josh Sitton and Jerrell Freeman are gone, but what will he do with Kyle Fuller?

Plus, Rick Hahn joins Kap from Glendale, Ariz., to discuss the state of the White Sox rebuild, how tough it is to keep their best prospects in the minors and why Jose Abreu is so important for his young team?

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: