White Sox fans might have their eyes on the future, but the 2018 season has plenty of intrigue all its own. As Opening Day nears, let's take a look at the 18 most pressing questions for the 2018 edition of the South Side baseball team.
Spring stats aren't supposed to mean much. But when they're really bad, do they mean a little more?
Carson Fulmer has had a bad spring. He entered Monday's outing against the Arizona Diamondbacks with an astonishingly high 18.90 ERA. Things got a little better Monday, when he had his best outing of the spring, throwing four scoreless (and hitless) innings.
Fulmer, the No. 8 pick in the 2015 draft, was supposed to be a big piece of the White Sox future coming off an excellent season at Vanderbilt. But with just 15 big league appearances under his belt and now this poor showing in spring training, it's worth wondering how big a piece he'll be when this rebuild reaches its apex and the White Sox are planned to be contending on an annual basis — or if he's going to be a piece at all.
Moved quickly to the majors in 2016, Fulmer was roughed up for an 8.49 ERA in eight relief appearances. Last season, he was crushed in a spot start in August, allowing six runs in 1.1 innings. But he came back at the end of the season and showed some promise, turning in a 1.64 ERA in six appearances. Four of those were starts, and in those he allowed just three runs in 17.1 innings.
That end-of-season performance figured to earn Fulmer a spot on the young-and-getting-younger White Sox starting staff, giving him the opportunity to prove that he could be a part of a rotation of the future. Instead, the spring has been a bumpy ride.
His first outing against the Cubs: four runs in an inning. His second outing against the San Diego Padres: four runs in an inning. His third outing against the Padres: two runs in three innings. His fourth outing against the Milwaukee Brewers: seven runs in 1.2 innings.
That's a hideous list of results for a guy trying to work his way into a rotation spot. Monday, his fifth outing, got him back on track a bit, and it still looks like he'll stave off Hector Santiago — signed to a minor league deal at the outset of spring training and looking like a shoo-in for the long-relief role in the bullpen — for the fifth spot in the rotation. The obvious thing going for Fulmer in that battle is his age and his one-time expectations, good enough reasons to give him every opportunity to earn a spot in a rotation of the future.
Thing is, that future's coming fast. The rotation of the future is a crowded one, with Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen, Dylan Cease, Dane Dunning and Carlos Rodon all fighting for jobs, along with Fulmer. So this year offers a unique opportunity for Fulmer to show the White Sox at the big league level that he can be one of those guys.
But he's got to get there first. It makes sense that he would, because even if his spring struggles move over to the regular season, the White Sox aren't expected to be contending for a championship in 2018.
The window to impress might not be huge, but it does exist. In 2018, we'll see what Fulmer can do.