GLENDALE, Ariz. — “I just wasn’t myself, plain and simple.”
These are the words coming from Carson Fulmer, former College Pitcher of the Year and the White Sox first-round pick in 2015.
“I love the environment, I love big crowds. I love the chance of putting my team in a great position to win, and I lost that. I lost that for a while. It was very hard to understand how and why I lost that,” Fulmer said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago.
This is not the story, nor the career, Fulmer envisioned for himself when he was projected to be a future star in the majors after going 14-2 with a 1.83 ERA in his final season at Vanderbilt.
His college coach, Tim Corbin, who coached All Stars like David Price and Sonny Gray, called Fulmer “the strongest-willed kid we’ve had come through” and compared him to boxer Joe Frazier. “He’d just keep coming and keep throwing punches.”
Now four years after being drafted, Fulmer finds himself fighting to get back in the majors and to get back to being an important piece of the White Sox future. He’s been knocked down, particularly last year. He opened the season in the White Sox rotation as their fifth starter but made only eight starts before being sent down to Triple-A Charlotte, where his struggles continued and he was eventually moved to the bullpen.
But he’s arrived at spring training standing tall, minus more than 15 pounds and his trademark wavy hair. He cut most of it off. He’s lighter, wiser and he promises to be better.
“I’ve heard from a lot of veteran guys that I’ve played with over the last three years that you’ve got to be able to control the environment and the situation, and if you don’t, the game will speed up on you and that’s exactly what happened to me,” Fulmer said. “That’s something I was never used to.”
And losing? Failing? Last year was completely unchartered territory for him. He had an 8.07 ERA in 32.1 innings with the White Sox, a 5.32 ERA with the Knights and didn’t receive a call back to the majors in September.
“I never really faced that much failure in my career,” Fulmer said. “Obviously, the end of last year didn’t work out the way I wanted to. It just really drove me to figure out some things about myself.”
That meant going back to his offseason home in Seattle and joining up with Driveline Baseball, a data-driven player-development company that follows many of the methods he used at Vanderbilt. Fulmer says the White Sox didn’t have a problem with him trying something new, or old, in this case. Among those joining him at Driveline were major league pitchers Adam Ottavino and Trevor Bauer.
“We all threw with each other. We all pushed each other. It was just a great environment and position to be in. I learned a lot about my body and what it’s capable of doing,” Fulmer said.
Even before taking the mound for his first Cactus League game of the year Saturday against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Fulmer says he’s already exceeded his expectations coming into camp.
“I’m definitely in a great place now. Physically I feel really, really strong. I feel healthy. I’m back to some of the routines that gave me the opportunity to be in this position in the first place,” Fulmer explained.
That includes a quick, compact delivery where he drives down the mound toward home plate.
“I got away from that for a while, and I think it kind of messed with my control a little bit, and my power. I felt like a lost a lot of velocity and just needed to get back being strong and athletic. I feel great. I looked at a lot of college video and early on video I had in pro ball and it’s pretty close to it now.”
While it might seem like Fulmer was drafted like a decade ago, he only turned 25 in December. Considering his college success and maturity, the White Sox fast-tracked him to Chicago in 2016, one year after being drafted, figuring he was ready for The Show.
Looking back now, Fulmer acknowledges he wasn’t as prepared for the major leagues as he thought he was.
“I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to go up and go to the big leagues so early in my career, but there were a lot of things I didn’t know about the big leagues,” Fulmer said. “The big leagues was a dream come true and I think I got caught up in that a little bit. Being up three times already and going into my fourth season, I have a lot of memories, a lot of experiences I can look back on. I know what I need to do to get ready for this year. This is the best I’ve felt by far, even dating back to college. This is the best I’ve felt mentally and physically. I’m definitely ready for the opportunity.”
As a starter or a reliever?
“I just know that I have to get to the big leagues and I have to have success. If that’s starting or relieving, I have to help this team win. I’ll play any role they want me to be,” he said. “Starting with the ball and ending with the ball is something I’ve always loved to do as a starter, but as a reliever I love to pick the starting pitcher up and really lock down situations I’ve been called upon to take care of. Anything.
"Any opportunity I can have to help this team win is something I look forward to this year.”Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.