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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.”