White Sox

After offseason of rediscovery, Carson Fulmer ready to jump back into White Sox future plans

After offseason of rediscovery, Carson Fulmer ready to jump back into White Sox future plans

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.

Yasmani Grandal hard at work molding pitching staff that drew him to White Sox

0224_yasmani_grandal.jpg
AP

Yasmani Grandal hard at work molding pitching staff that drew him to White Sox

It should come as no surprise that Yasmani Grandal is already making a big impact, even in the early weeks of spring training.

After all, his impact was being felt before anyone even showed up to Camelback Ranch.

But the team’s new No. 1 catcher — perhaps its most important acquisition during a busy offseason — has expectedly gotten to work with a White Sox pitching staff that helped draw him to the South Side.

“I don't care where I'm going as long as I see a future in the pitching staff,” he said back in November, after he signed his team-record contract. “If I see that I can help that pitching staff, for me, that's pretty much No. 1. So their sales pitch was that: ‘Look at the young arms we have, look at the guys we have coming up. We have an opportunity here to win, and we think you can help them out.’”

Certainly there’s a ton of promise with these young pitchers. Lucas Giolito already morphed himself from the pitcher with the worst statistics in baseball to an All Star last season. Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease and Reynaldo Lopez all have front-of-the-rotation potential, as well.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t question marks. Giolito has to show his transformation was a permanent one. Kopech is finally returning from Tommy John surgery, and though he’s still ranked as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, he’s got just four big league starts under his belt. Cease and Lopez could be the White Sox biggest mysteries heading into the 2020 campaign after they put up some ugly numbers in 2019.

Grandal should be able to help move all those guys in positive directions, and he’s started on that work early this spring. After catching bullpen sessions from Kopech and Lopez, he stuck around for lengthy chats to discuss what he saw. The same was true after Cease threw live batting practice last week, sitting in the dugout for an extended talk.

This might not be incredibly unusual behavior, especially for a catcher who hasn’t caught any of these guys before, getting to know his pitching staff ahead of the regular season. But Grandal’s desire to help develop these pitchers into the type of hurlers the White Sox believe they can be has been evident.

For him, that’s business as usual.

“We’re as strong as our weakest link, right?” he said in the early days of White Sox camp. “I feel like we need to make everybody better, it doesn’t matter if you’re a reliever or a position player. I’m going to do my homework on everybody and make sure everybody is on the same page and then we’ll go from there. We’ll make adjustments as the year goes on.

“The quicker we can do it, the better.”

Grandal figures to help these White Sox in a lot of different ways, hence why they handed him a four-year deal that, until options are exercised on some of the other contracts the team gave out this winter, is the richest in club history. He’s fresh off a career year at the dish that could land him right in the thick of Rick Renteria’s lineup. After ranking in the top five in baseball with 109 walks in 2019, he’s hoping some of his on-base skills might catch on with his new teammates. There’s the pitch-framing, a skill which is still valuable as we await baseball’s robot revolution. Grandal’s one of the best in the game at it. And his work ethic and love of baseball-related homework leaps out at anyone who talks with him.

It all adds up to a guy who can’t help but make his presence felt right away.

“I could tell right off the bat that it was going to be great for us,” Giolito said. “Obviously, he’s proving that to be true, even in these early days of spring training. Very in-depth conversations with each pitcher that he’s working with. … He’s kind of introducing us to some things that he’s learned along the way, which is exactly what we need for an organization trying to turn that page. He’s coming from winning organizations. He knows what it takes, and he’s implementing that whole-heartedly.”

“The conversations he has with the coaches, the conversations he has with some of the young starters, in terms of preparation, in terms of adjustments, in terms of game-planning, he’s just a pleasure to have around and an outstanding baseball guy who’s going to help this team not just with what he does offensively or even from the defensive-metrics standpoint, but just from an all-around culture and environment standpoint, as well,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “And that’s come through early.”

As Giolito mentioned, Grandal’s winning experience could prove one of his bigger contributions as the White Sox look to snap a playoff drought that’s lasted more than a decade. A talented roster has legitimate postseason expectations in 2020, and considering Grandal’s played in the last five postseasons, that’s a valuable asset to have in the fold.

Making a team-wide jump from rebuilding mode to contenting mode happens on a day-by-day basis, sometimes an inning-by-inning or pitch-by-pitch basis. That’s the kind of work Grandal can help the White Sox do and do well.

“He’s been around the block,” Renteria said. “He’s got a lot of high-impact, high-leverage type experiences in his major league career, and that helps, in many instances, slow things down a lot. So right now, when we’re focusing on trying to clean up and do things that will help our pitchers and any other aspect of the game get better, he’s able to step in and do certain things that allow us to do that.”

“Stuff at game speed goes a little bit quicker,” Kopech said. “It can kind of get away from you if you don’t take control of it. And I think that’s what he’s going to be able to help us with, at game speed, because he’s been there at game speed for a long time. He’s going to help be able to slow the game down for us and stuff like that.”

Considering Grandal is under contract for the next four seasons and that he is set for a prominent role both at and behind the plate, his signing could be the biggest deal among a ton of big deals during the just completed White Sox offseason. His part in the big league portion of development for these young pitchers — and remember, there’s more of them on the way, like Dane Dunning, Jimmy Lambert and Jonathan Stiever — will be just as crucial.

Grandal will touch much of the final stage of this rebuilding project. And if the results are as positive as his first impression has been at Camelback Ranch, then the White Sox will probably consider that team-record contract well worth it.

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.

Heavy-hearted Lucas Giolito talks Kobe Bryant's impact, carrying on his legacy

lucas_giolito.jpg
USA TODAY

Heavy-hearted Lucas Giolito talks Kobe Bryant's impact, carrying on his legacy

The tragic death of Kobe Bryant left a gaping hole in the heart of Los Angeles. It’s a pain that will never fully heal, a loss that still seems unfathomable one month later.

For LA native Lucas Giolito, who was basically born into the Kobe Bryant era in 1994, the Lakers superstar was seemingly everywhere in Southern California; on the basketball court, on the television and in the air that everyone breathed.

“I think he’s going to have one of the biggest impacts on that city, ever,” Giolito said in an interview on the White Sox Talk Podcast. “He was a staple. He was a part of the culture there. His presence as an athlete, as a pop culture figure in our city, it transcended basketball. He went on to win an Oscar.

“He probably had so many plans.” 

For most of the month of January, Giolito was working out at Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy in Redondo Beach, Calif. with several other major league pitchers — his teammate Reynaldo Lopez and the Mets' Noah Syndergaard among them.

On Sunday morning, Jan. 26, Giolito awoke to a text from his friend about a TMZ article reporting Bryant had died in a helicopter crash.

“I’m like, ‘Nah. That’s bull****. There’s no way,” Giolito recalled.

Soon the nightmare the world was fearing became a reality. Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven others had perished in the accident.

“The feeling in the gym the next day when I got back in the gym, all of the employees in there, they knew him personally. It was really sad," Giolito said. "It felt like there was a cloud over the city for a period of time. It reminds you how fragile life is. Take advantage of each day.

"I get really upset when I do think about his wife and his daughters that he did leave behind, especially with Gigi passing away as well. It’s hard to comprehend.”

One of the greatest basketball players in the history of the game was inexplicably taken from us, but inside the Mamba Sports Academy, Giolito found inspiration in the facility Bryant created.

“If I’m walking into this place he built," Giolito said, "I might as well have that type of attitude that he had, about how he went about his business very seriously, taking advantage of every opportunity. He left such a huge legacy. You just try to carry what you can forward.

“And it just sucks because it was just the beginning for him. The type of person he was. The dedication to his craft of basketball and the things he was going to do after basketball. Obviously, his legacy is going to live on in so many of us athletes, whether you play basketball, baseball, football, whatever.”

Monday night in Los Angeles, some 20,000 mourners will gather to celebrate the lives of Bryant and his daughter at a public memorial at the Staples Center. It will be another step in a long grieving process that has been slow to develop, especially in Los Angeles — where a pall continues to hang over the city.

“For the 2-3 weeks following (Bryant’s death), I’d be going about my day, just doing my normal thing, and it would just pop in my mind and then be like, ‘Damn,’" Giolito said. "I can’t think of a celebrity death that had that affect on me and so many of my friends, so many people in LA and around the world, honestly.

“He was 100 percent my favorite Laker. Just growing up in that area when they’re winning championship after championship. It was like, ‘Do you like Shaq or Kobe?’ I like Kobe.”

Bryant’s presence is felt here in Arizona, where the White Sox and Dodgers both share Camelback Ranch, their spring training facility. During his 20-year Lakers career, Bryant became a fixture at Dodgers Stadium. He watched games with Magic Johnson, he befriended Dodgers players and announced the starting lineup to a raucous Dodgers crowd before Game 4 of the 2018 World Series.  

Monday, the White Sox happen to face the Dodgers in Glendale (airing on NBC Sports Chicago at 2 p.m. CT). Giolito won’t be pitching; he’s about a week behind schedule, rehabbing a strained chest muscle. 

When he returns to game action, and for the rest of his baseball career, Giolito plans to follow what he learned from Bryant. He says the impact he made far exceeds basketball and sports. No matter what you do for a living, the Lakers icon left behind a toolbox everyone can use to succeed in life.

“The Mamba mentality, that’s very, very real. (Bryant) would talk at lengths about it," he said. "I would hear him speak about that in podcasts and interviews. That’s a very real, powerful tool that you can adopt and use. It really does improve your ability to navigate through life.

"It doesn’t matter what you do. You have that type of mentality; he showed it. He showed it on the basketball court. He showed it in everything he did and even beyond basketball in his business ventures afterwards. It doesn’t stop.” 

Nor will the love for Kobe Bryant. He was a king of a basketball player, a giant in life. The people he touched, like Giolito, will continue to be affected, for years and decades to come.

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.