White Sox

Carson Fulmer expected to be part of White Sox rotation, but is he a part of the rebuild's future?

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USA TODAY

Carson Fulmer expected to be part of White Sox rotation, but is he a part of the rebuild's future?

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The White Sox starting rotation is coming into focus.

With James Shields, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez locked into the top three slots, one of the items on the team’s offseason to-do list was to figure out who the final two spots would go to.

Obviously, Carlos Rodon has a spot when he’s healthy. But after having surgery at the end of last season, there’s no telling when he’ll be back. General manager Rick Hahn keeps saying it could be by Opening Day or it could be by June, and there has been no change to that prognosis at the Winter Meetings here at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort.

One of the two open spots, though, appears set to go to Carson Fulmer, the White Sox first-round draft pick back in 2015. Hahn said if everything remains the same as it is right now, the team expects Fulmer to be one of its five starting pitchers in 2018.

“We certainly have the expectation that he’ll be part of the rotation come the end of spring training,” Hahn said during his daily briefing Tuesday. “Let’s see how everybody shows up, health wise, any other potential transactions between now and then, and what the ultimate fit is and what’s best for his long-term development. But as we sit here today, I think you could look at him as one of our five.”

While Fulmer was drafted out of Vanderbilt to be a starting pitcher of the future, he’s made just five big league starts in his mere 15 appearances in the majors. As a reliever in 2016, things went poorly, as he allowed 11 runs in just 11.2 innings. Last season was better, at least after his first appearance of the season, in which he gave up six runs in 1.1 innings in a start on Aug. 21. He came back in September and posted a 1.64 ERA in six appearances, which included four starts.

Hahn admitted Tuesday that Fulmer might have been rushed to the big leagues after being selected with the No. 8 pick in 2015. But if Fulmer can replicate what happened in September, maybe there’s another future piece people should be talking about.

“He’s had some hardships thrown his way, both with getting accelerated a little too quickly to get the big leagues initially given where we were as a club at the time to some off-the-field stuff. But he’s bounced back from all of it, he hasn’t hung his head at all, and I think in September we saw him hit his stride a little bit and show some of the flashes of what he’s capable of doing,” Hahn said. “We certainly view him as a guy who has the ability to contribute both in the rotation or in the ‘pen depending on where the need is.”

Considering Fulmer was drafted and even made his major league debut before the much-heralded rebuild officially began, it’s easy to let him slip through the cracks when mentioning highly rated prospects like Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Eloy Jimenez and even fellow pitchers like Giolito and Lopez. But Hahn said he thinks Fulmer should be included in that group of names, too.

“I think so,” Hahn said. “From a fit standpoint, from a clubhouse standpoint, it’s tough to beat him. From success in big games, we saw that going back to Vanderbilt. So he’s been tested under the brightest lights at each stage and succeeded. Now it’s a matter of him, as we saw to an extent in September, seizing the opportunity that’s in front of him and making the most of it.”

It sure looks like Fulmer will get that opportunity — even if the White Sox add a veteran to help balance out a young rotation. And then he can prove if he is truly a long-term piece of the puzzle on the South Side.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Michael Kopech's next start be in the majors?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Michael Kopech's next start be in the majors?

On this edition of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, Ben Finfer, Lauren Comitor (The Athletic) and Robert Zeglinski (Windy City Gridiron) join Kap on the panel. 

Michael Kopech is making his third Triple-A start down the road in Indianapolis. Should his next start come in the majors? Chuck Garfien weighs in. 

Plus, the panel discusses Albert Almora, Jr’s second straight leadoff appearance and whether or not Ryan Pace should trade up in the draft to get his guy.

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live Podcast right here:

Carlos Rodon makes an appearance on the South Side as his rehab moves toward next phase

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AP

Carlos Rodon makes an appearance on the South Side as his rehab moves toward next phase

Though he’s seemingly become the forgotten man, Carlos Rodon still has much a chance as anyone to be a part — a big part — of the White Sox rotation of the future.

Rebuild-loving White Sox fans are always hungry for the next batch of box scores from the minor leagues, following guys like Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen, Dylan Cease and Dane Dunning from one start to the next like they’re big leaguers and not pitching, in two of those four cases, for a Class A team.

That hunger coupled with Rodon’s status as a player in recovery instead as one on a major league mound makes it easy to forget that the 2014 first-round pick, who’s just 25 years old, should very much be included with all those minor league guys (not to mention Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez) as potential aces of the future for the rebuilding White Sox.

But he’s got to get back to pitching first.

Rodon will soon do that, he informed reporters while making an appearance at Guaranteed Rate Field. Still rehabbing from shoulder surgery that brought his 2017 campaign to an early end, Rodon was back in Chicago to meet with the doctor, and he'll also throw for pitching coach Don Cooper. Rodon provided the update that he’ll soon be pitching in games, starting with extended spring training contests before making a minor league rehab assignment and eventually making his way back to the South Side.

Recently moved to the 60-day disabled list, he’ll be eligible to come off at the end of May, which is around the time the White Sox have discussed him potentially being ready to return.

“Hopefully by the end of this 60-day deal, maybe,” Rodon said when asked when he’ll be back. “You never know what could happen, setbacks and whatnot. Those things can lengthen out the process, but if everything goes well, hopefully by the end of (May). I don’t know. I can’t really put a date on it. I’m hoping, but we’ll see.”

“Timetable’s the same as it’s always been. We expect him to be back sometime roughly in late May, early June,” general manager Rick Hahn said Friday. “I think the earliest he can come back is May 28 because we put him on the 60-day, so it’ll be after that date.”

White Sox fans haven’t seen much of Rodon in the last two seasons of South Side baseball. Last year, his start was delayed until late June because of a spring arm injury. Then came the shoulder surgery last September. Almost a month into this season, Rodon’s combined innings total in 2017 and 2018 stands at just 69.1 in 12 starts last summer.

But he showed some flashes of brilliance in those outings that brought to mind why the White Sox spent the No. 3 pick in the draft on him. He had three games of at least 10 strikeouts, including punching out 11 Cubs hitters in just four innings last July.

This time, he’ll miss roughly the same amount of time in the season before making his debut, give or take a few weeks. But at least he’s got experience to lean on when it comes to dealing with his absence.

“It is tough, not starting the season off with the boys. I miss being here,” Rodon said. “It’s definitely frustrating. No one likes to be injured, for the team and for the fans. You don’t want to be in Arizona when your boys are out here pitching and hitting balls and winning games. Sometimes it’s part of the process, as dumb as that sounds. It really is true. It’s a different kind of feeling this year knowing more so what’s going on.

“I kind of know more of a plan now compared to last year. I kind of was clueless. You never think surgery is a good thing, but in this case it’s not bad at all, considering plan-wise and time-wise, we’re a little more set in stone.”