Michael Kopech

Carson Fulmer's demotion and the current state of the White Sox rotation provide several rebuilding reminders

Carson Fulmer's demotion and the current state of the White Sox rotation provide several rebuilding reminders

Carson Fulmer getting sent to Triple-A following Friday’s game might be, to this point, the biggest development this season on the South Side.

Fulmer doesn’t carry the same expectations as higher-rated prospects like Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen or Dane Dunning, but this is a top-10 draft pick who the White Sox still believe can play a significant role in their bright future. And he’s struggling. Badly. Once his ERA jumped up past 8.00 thanks to his third straight brief and run-filled outing, the White Sox made the decision to send him to Charlotte.

It leaves the White Sox rotation looking like this: James Shields, a struggling Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Hector Santiago and either Chris Volstad or the recently summoned Dylan Covey.

Four of those guys (Shields, Santiago, Volstad and Covey) don’t figure to play a role in the team’s long-term future, and Giolito is dealing with his own significant struggles, leading the American League in walks heading into his Saturday-night start. Lopez has been the rotation’s bright spot, but even he watched his ERA climb more than a full point after allowing six runs in two innings his last time out.

It’s not a great state for the rotation to be in if you, like the White Sox, have your sights set on the long-term future of this team, though it probably won’t look like that for too much longer. Still, it provides a few valuable reminders about not only this rebuilding effort but rebuilds in general.

This season is about development, and this is what development looks like

For better or worse, this is what development looks like. The White Sox own baseball’s worst record, and general manager Rick Hahn has been among the large number of White Sox fans to voice their disappointment over play that has been sloppy at times.

Fulmer’s struggles fall into the same category and serve as a reminder that growing pains like this are going to happen. We’ve seen it with Fulmer. We’ve seen it with Giolito. We’ve seen it with Lopez. Heck, we’ve seen it with Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson, too.

But more than wins and losses, this is what this season is about. Hahn calls it “the hardest part of the rebuild” because it features guys getting lit up and games being lost. The hope is that Fulmer can figure things out in the minors and that Giolito won’t require a similar demotion to right his ship. And if everything turns out all right, then this will be an easily forgotten chapter in both of those players’ development.

In the moment, though, it’s another reminder that rebuilds take time and that the waiting game provides minimal fun.

Each player’s development has a different trajectory

Just because Fulmer is getting bumped down to Triple-A doesn’t mean he can’t still turn into a successful major league pitcher. Player development and rebuilds aren’t linear, as rebuilders like to say. And to expect every prospect to travel in a straight line from potential to big league stardom doesn't make much sense.

“We reiterate, ‘It’s not the end of your career,’” Renteria said Saturday. “This is simply a reboot, a reset. Ultimately, I think after the initial shock for any player, they settle down and they understand exactly what’s going on when you look at it logically and look in the mirror. I think it’s easy to logically look at it and say, ‘I need to work on x, y and z.’

“This is a good kid with a really positive attitude and a lot of confidence. I think he’ll look in the mirror and go, ‘You know what, I got things I can work on, I’ll settle in and get over this initial bump and get to work.’ Those are the guys that end up giving themselves a chance to return sooner rather than later and have success.”

Not all prospects pan out

The other side of that coin is the reminder that not every single one of the White Sox wealth of prospects will pan out. Hahn & Co. have prepared for that and built up an incredible amount of prospect depth, but when someone doesn't live up to expectations, it will be painful.

This isn’t to suggest that Fulmer, specifically, won’t pan out, but it’s to point out that not everyone will. That’s a crowded-looking rotation of the future with Kopech, Hansen, Dunning, Fulmer, Giolito, Lopez, Carlos Rodon and Dylan Cease all competing for those eventual five spots. Rather than the White Sox having to make tough decisions about who will be left out, certainly a possibility, the developments of those pitchers might make those decisions for them.

Renteria is confident that Fulmer will be back in the big leagues, and there’s little reason to think that this is the end of Fulmer’s opportunity. But not every top-10 pick reaches All-Star status.

The future is on the way

The current starting rotation might have fans asking why the heck it looks like it does. But a month or two from now it will look drastically different.

Rodon makes his first rehab start Saturday at Class A Kannapolis as he battles back from shoulder surgery last fall, and he shouldn’t be too far away from providing a serious jolt to the starting staff. Not to mention, he’s a guy who as good a chance as anyone as grabbing one of those front-end spots, and with him in the rotation, things will look a tad more futuristic.

Same goes for Kopech, whose promotion figures to be coming at some point this summer. Given the hype and the expectations there, his arrival will obviously be a really big deal.

But regardless of the results either Rodon and Kopech put up in their first tastes of major league action in 2018, they’ll make the rotation into something that way more closely resembles the rotation of the future. There’ll be plenty of development left for the Hansens and the Ceases and the Dunnings in the minors. But a rotation featuring Rodon, Kopech, Giolito and Lopez looks a lot different than one featuring Shields, Santiago, Covey and Volstad.

Patience. It’s not much fun. But it’s necessary to build a contender.

Daily White Sox prospects update: Michael Kopech and Dylan Cease dominate

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USA TODAY

Daily White Sox prospects update: Michael Kopech and Dylan Cease dominate

Here's your daily update on what the White Sox highly touted prospects are doing in the minor leagues.

Triple-A Charlotte

Michael Kopech bounced back from a pair of brief starts in which he allowed a combined 10 runs with a dominant performance in a 1-0 win. He pitched seven shutout innings, allowing just two hits and walking two batters while striking out nine. Kopech's ERA remains a hair above 4.00 on the season, but he upped his strikeout total to 53 in 40.1 innings. This was his first win of the campaign.

Class A Winston-Salem

Dylan Cease logged six shutout innings in a 6-0 win. He allowed two hits and walked two, striking out six. His ERA fell to 3.12 on the season, and he has 48 strikeouts in 40.1 innings. Luis Alexander Basabe had a big night at the plate, banging out three hits, including a home run and a double, driving in two runs and scoring a run. Joel Booker also homered and scored three times. Blake Rutherford and Micker Adolfo each had a hit and two walks.

Double-A Birmingham

Dane Dunning didn't fare quite as well as his fellow highly rated pitching prospects, lasting just four innings in an 8-0 loss. Only three of the five runs he allowed were earned and he struck out six, but he also allowed six hits and walked a pair. Eloy Jimenez, Zack Collins and Seby Zavala were a combined 1-for-11.

Forget rivals, the White Sox should look at the Cubs as rebuild role models

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AP

Forget rivals, the White Sox should look at the Cubs as rebuild role models

The White Sox and Cubs couldn’t be in two more different places.

Well, both teams play in the same city, on the same CTA line. But let’s stay metaphorical here, let’s stay high concept.

The White Sox are rebuilding and in the dog days of that process, which even after Sunday’s refreshing, change-of-pace win to avoid a crosstown sweep has them at 10-27, the worst record in the majors. There’s no shortage of hope for the future, with a wealth of highly ranked prospects developing in the minor leagues, and even the most pessimistic observer would have to consider the rebuild on track for success.

The Cubs, meanwhile, are a team that has not only World Series aspirations but a team that has World Series expectations. Talk during spring training reflected a “championship or bust” attitude, one that was significantly bolstered by the big-money addition of Yu Darvish.

Certainly fans on the South Side would never admit a desire to be like their North Side brothers, but they should look above Madison Street to find a role model, to find a template for how a rebuild is supposed to play out.

It wasn’t too long ago that Theo Epstein’s front office executed the same strategy Rick Hahn & Co. are now employing. Epstein took over as team president in the midst of five straight fifth-place finishes in the National League Central, three of those under his watch. But the three seasons that followed saw the Cubs reach three NL Championship Series and win a World Series championship in 2016.

Building that champion took a variety of moves including trades (Andrew Cashner for Anthony Rizzo, Scott Feldman for Jake Arrieta, Ryan Dempster for Kyle Hendricks, Jeff Samardzija for Addison Russell), draft picks (Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr.) and big-time free-agent signings (Jon Lester, Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward). It took player development, and it took a lot of losing at the major league level while that all occurred.

The White Sox are in the middle of that same process. They’ve traded Chris Sale, Adam Eaton, Jose Quintana and a host of others for what they expect to be cornerstones of future contenders: Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Eloy Jimenez, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Dane Dunning, Dylan Cease and Blake Rutherford. They’ve spent high draft picks on the likes of Tim Anderson, Carlos Rodon, Carson Fulmer, Zack Collins, Alec Hansen and Jake Burger. They’ve made two important international signings in Luis Robert and Micker Adolfo.

While there’s no guarantee that all those guys will pan out the same way the Cubs had good fortune in their top prospects developing into the core that now powers a perennial contender. But that lengthy list shows where the White Sox have actually outpaced the Cubs, in a way, during their rebuilding process: depth. That list isn’t going to be the White Sox exact 25-man roster one day, in all likelihood, but a significant number of those players should make up a core just like the one the Cubs boast now.

The step the White Sox have yet to reach is the one where they add high-priced free agents. Lester and Heyward got huge contracts once the Cubs opened their contention window (even though it took a leap of faith on Lester’s part, considering he signed before many of those youngsters hit the big leagues). Zobrist signed for four years and ended up the World Series MVP in his first season on the North Side.

The White Sox should be approaching that point, be it this offseason or the next. With the ridiculous amount of free agents set to hit the market in the next two offseasons — superstars like Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson and Nolan Arenado — adding someone of that caliber would help the White Sox build a contender on what is expected to be a pretty impressive foundation.

The year before the Cubs made their first run to the NLCS, they finished in last place. This isn’t saying that the White Sox are going to rocket to the postseason after a season in which they’re currently on pace to lose more than 100 games. But timing the arrival of all that minor league talent alongside spending on free agents could rip that contention window wide open, just like the Cubs did in 2015. After Lester signed over the winter, Bryant and Russell hit the majors in April. And just like that … 

Despite Sunday’s win for the South Siders, this weekend made it pretty apparent that the White Sox and Cubs are far apart from one another. The Cubs blasted White Sox pitching in the series’ first two games, scoring 19 runs in two days. The final score on the three days at Wrigley: Cubs 22, White Sox 11.

But in that display, the White Sox saw what they hope to be over the next few years. The Cubs were once piling up losses and languishing at the bottom of the standings. That’s how a rebuilding process works. The White Sox are going through that right now. And there’s an argument to be made that their rebuild, spurred by trading the high-end major league talent the Cubs didn’t have at the time, is moving along at a better clip than the Cubs’ did. Of course, it doesn’t matter how long it takes to get there, the destination is what’s important, and the Cubs already reached the top of the mountain.

But baseball’s mountaintop rarely has one occupant for very long. The White Sox are mid-climb and hope to reach the summit as soon as all that player development will allow. Thankfully for them, they can follow the path taken by the rebuilding success stories that came before them — including the Cubs.