White Sox

Fighting for spot in future Sox rotation, Carson Fulmer has eyes on eventual World Series: 'That's all we think about, that's all we want to do'

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USA TODAY

Fighting for spot in future Sox rotation, Carson Fulmer has eyes on eventual World Series: 'That's all we think about, that's all we want to do'

It’s not good for one’s health or sanity to assess the White Sox young players on a daily basis.

And that’s why pitching coach Don Cooper cranked up the emotion to suggest patience in regards to Carson Fulmer when the White Sox opened the 2018 season a couple weeks ago in Kansas City.

Fulmer’s been a lightning rod for snap judgments, a high draft pick with shaky performances in his first few major league innings followed by a strong finish to the 2017 season then a rough spring training.

But if there is truth to the suggestion that each and every game is a building block, then Fulmer is getting 2018 started with a solid first step. He pitched real well against the Toronto Blue Jays last week, allowing three runs and striking out five batters in five innings. He didn’t get the win, but he was very pleased with how things went.

“Great first start,” Fulmer said Monday back in Chicago. “Was able to have some pretty good command, was able to locate my fastball pretty well. Got a lot of swing and misses on my changeup, which is a pitch I’ve been working on quite a bit. Cutter was pretty effective. I didn’t throw too many breaking balls, which is my bread and butter when it comes to making an out pitch. But I was able to get through five strong innings, came out of the ballgame, kept momentum on our side, put our team in the best chance to win.

“So very, very happy with the first one. Obviously, take the positives out of that one and move on to the next one.”

The next one comes Tuesday afternoon against the Tampa Bay Rays as the future continues to roll on for the White Sox starting staff. Reynaldo Lopez has been the most impressive of the bunch with two strong outings to start his season. Lucas Giolito had his issues in his first two starts, but there’s plenty of confidence that he’ll straighten things out once he’s no longer pitching in arctic conditions. Michael Kopech was terrific in his debut at Triple-A Charlotte on Monday night, striking out eight hitters in four innings of work.

Fulmer is fighting for a spot in that crowded rotation of the future as he continues to develop at the major league level, a common theme among many of big league White Sox in 2018. The nature of baseball almost assures they won’t all be gems, and that’s fine. Fulmer will have every opportunity to prove he belongs not just in this rotation but in the rotations in 2019 and 2020 and beyond, when this rebuilding effort is planned to yield a perennial contender.

“I think that for us young guys, being thrown out there and getting innings under our belt and facing the best competition in the world, that’s the only way we’re going to get better,” Fulmer said. “We all have personal goals, but we have to set those aside and we have to look at the team goal. And the team goal is to be a part of winning a World Series. That’s all we think about. That’s all we want to do. And I think that being part of a staff that is going to push towards that eventually is really special.

“With the organization giving us the opportunity to go out there every fifth day, it’s definitely really special. We’re definitely fortunate to have the opportunity to do that.”

There will be plenty of fans who still aren’t sold on Fulmer as one of the future five after what he did in the spring. And while spring stats should always be taken with a hefty helping of salt, the numbers were not at all good for Fulmer. He finished with an 11.81 ERA in five outings, giving up seven home runs and walking 13 batters in 10.2 innings.

But Fulmer was still able to take plenty of positives from the spring, as was his manager.

“I got ahead of a lot of guys, which is real important for a pitcher and a starting pitcher. I wasn’t able to make that third pitch,” Fulmer said. “I’d get guys 0-2, 1-2, and would get through the hard part and had some difficulty with my breaking ball, which is my go-to. My changeup, was still trying to feel it out. But I felt great, I felt healthy, I made every one of my starts, I was able to go deep into ballgames. And regardless of the result, I was given the opportunity to make this club and ended up having a really good first start, which I think is one of the tougher outings, for guys to get off on a good start. I’m definitely ready to make a lot more starts this year and hopefully put us in a great chance to win.”

“Honestly, I wasn’t too concerned about the spring,” Rick Renteria said. “Everybody, rightfully so, looking at what the outcomes were about, but you’ve got to look beyond the outcomes, kind of see who that person is, what he’s done in the past, how he prepares his mindset. As it turns out, we’ve had one good outing out of him, hopefully we’ll get another one and we continue to build on it. You’re not always going to have good days, and the days that you don’t have your best stuff or best command is the day that you really work on trying to get through a ballgame and keep your team in it. And I think those are also great learning experiences for them, as well.”

As he showed in Toronto, Fulmer’s confidence was not shaken by a suboptimal spring. This is a guy who’s gone through both positives and negatives in his brief time as a pro. Remember, he was drafted fewer than three years ago. In all levels of the minor and major leagues, he’s yet to even tally 300 innings.

But Fulmer said his experiences — high-profile ones in the eyes of White Sox fans — have prepared him for this “prove it” season. And it could give him a leg up on Kopech, Alec Hansen, Dylan Cease, Dane Dunning and the rest of the pitching wave coming to the South Side.

“I think I’ve had a lot of experience now in regards to some ups and downs,” Fulmer said. “Not to think too much about spring training, but I stayed healthy, was able to work on a lot of things. And I think continuing to have that mindset of going out there and making your pitch and slowing the game down when you need to, it used to be kind of hard for me, but now it’s easy. Taking a deep breath, going out there and executing my pitch when I need to is really important, and I was able to have some success with it.

“I’ve gotten my feet wet, I feel comfortable being on this stage, and I’m just looking forward just to get some more experience.”

White Sox Talk Podcast: The crazy journey of Gio Gonzalez

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: The crazy journey of Gio Gonzalez

Making it to the majors is a fantastic and rare feat in itself, but White Sox pitcher Gio Gonzalez's path to the White Sox, and from the White Sox, several times over is a journey baseball fans everywhere should listen to. Chuck Garfien is joined by Gonzalez to discuss his pro career and what he sees in this young White Sox team.

(1:40) - Surprised the White Sox wanted him to comeback

(6:00) - Wanted to go a team that wanted to give him a opportunity

(10:00) - Yasmani Grandal is a different kind of person

(13:30) - Thoughts on the Sox young pitching core

(16:20) - Thoughts on the expectations for this team

Listen here or in the embedded player below. 

 

White Sox Talk Podcast

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Fifty homers? Eloy Jimenez aims to be a centerpiece in a newly powerful White Sox lineup

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USA TODAY

Fifty homers? Eloy Jimenez aims to be a centerpiece in a newly powerful White Sox lineup

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Fifty. Fifty home runs.

That's a lot of home runs in a single season.

But Eloy Jimenez — like he does with just about everything — is greeting that number with a smile and a laugh.

"Why not?" he said, when asked Monday at Camelback Ranch if he believes he could hit 50-plus homers in a single campaign.

Jimenez does this quite often, asking his own questions of reporters who just asked him a question. Most of the time it's an opinion kind of thing. For example, earlier in the same media session, I asked him how the White Sox lineup looks after the team's many offseason additions. He turned it back on me: "What do you think?" I told him it looks significantly improved from last season. "OK, you have the answer." I guess I did.

But to his "Why not?" in the 50-homer discussion, there was no response from the assembled media. Because really, there isn't a reason why he can't hit 50 home runs in a single season.

It's becoming more of a rarity in baseball, especially since the homer-happy days of the steroid era. And it's never happened on the South Side. The team record for homers in a single season is 49, accomplished by Albert Belle in 1998. That mark was a tad overshadowed by what Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa did that year.

But the point is that if Jimenez reached the 50-homer mark, it would be a new White Sox record.

Why can't he do it? Crickets.

Jimenez has the power to do such a thing, hitting 31 home runs in a rookie season that still featured plenty of growing pains. Put those behind him, and who knows how many balls he can launch to the fan deck in center field.

A lot of the focus this winter and this spring is on improving his defense, which looked nowhere near as ready for dominance as his bat did in 2019. But manager Rick Renteria constantly talks about how Jimenez and his fellow White Sox youngsters are just scratching the surface of what they'll be able to do in their careers. If that's the case, then White Sox fans better brace themselves for some spectacular feats on the South Side over the next decade. Jimenez hitting 50 homers might just be one of them.

That's a maybe for the time being, though. What's a certainty is that Jimenez and this revamped White Sox lineup look primed for a far more powerful 2020 campaign.

In 2019, the White Sox were one of just six teams to hit fewer than 200 home runs. Their team slugging percentage of .414 was the sixth worst in baseball. This while the division-rival Minnesota Twins set a new major league record with 307 home runs, using all that might to win 101 games and the AL Central crown.

That's the prize the White Sox have their sights on this season. To win it, they'll need a power boost. Well, that's what Rick Hahn's front office tried to provide this offseason, adding Edwin Encarnacion (34 homers in 2019) as the new DH, Yasmani Grandal (28 homers) as the new No. 1 catcher, Nomar Mazara (19 homers) as the new right fielder and Luis Robert (32 homers in the minor leagues) as the new center fielder. That's four new everyday bats in a lineup that already included Jose Abreu (33 homers in 2019), Jimenez (31 homers), Yoan Moncada (25 homers) and Tim Anderson (18 homers).

While the baseball that many believe led to the kinds of inflated homer numbers that teams like Twins put up in 2019 is slated for change in 2020, many of those White Sox haven't reached the crest of their power-hitting wave. Jimenez, Moncada, Anderson, Mazara and obviously Robert are still young, still developing and could still have a lot more power production in them.

In other words, yes, this is a powerful lineup. And it's expected to get even more powerful.

"Our lineup has now been stretched out a little bit more. It's a little deeper, which is huge for us," Renteria said. "Mazara and what we believe he might be able to bring to the table, and another year of growth for the guys that are here. The power potential in terms of just having guys with solid experience, obviously power. Now you've got some protection, a little bit more. And so we'll continue to try to see how we develop that lineup composition, but certainly have many options at hand and we'll do the best we can to make it work."

No matter how you want to stack them up, Renteria is right. Last season, the White Sox had the four long-term centerpieces of their order — Anderson, Moncada, Abreu and Jimenez — and a half season of All-Star caliber production from James McCann. This season, the lineup contains productive and powerful options all the way toward the bottom. That's a big change from what fans have watched on a nightly basis during these rebuilding years and is a big part of the reason there are realistic playoff expectations on the South Side.

None of the newcomers has a more powerful profile than Encarnacion. His 297 homers since 2012 are the most in the majors. He's hit at least 30 home runs in each of the last eight seasons. And despite playing in just 109 games with the New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners last season, he still ranked 12th in the American League in long balls.

He's also known Jimenez since the young White Sox star was 14 years old. Who knows if Encarnacion can take much credit for Jimenez becoming a dangerous hitter in his own right, but Jimenez is happy to give Encarnacion credit for the impact he's made in his life — and the impact he thinks he'll make in the White Sox clubhouse.

"Now, to play with Edwin, in the same lineup, for me is really exciting," Jimenez said. "After I found out he was going to sign with us, I said, 'Welcome home.' And he said, 'Yeah, now I’m on a really good team and we can change the game.' So now I think we have a really good lineup, and we’re going to change the game, too.

"He gave me a lot of advice before I signed. The first advice I’ll always have with me: Don’t get crazy and don’t change because you have money. That is one of the biggest advice I’ve ever had from him. Before I got to the majors, he said, 'Don’t try to do too much and just show what you do always.' And that was the other advice he gave me.

"I appreciate him because he’s always treated me as a kid he loves. For me, it’s good to have a veteran who takes care of me.

"He’s the veteran on the team. You can see, he hits with a lot of power. And he’s a good teammate. So I’m guessing he’s going to (have the same impact he’s had) on me on the other guys, too."

The fans in the bleachers are hoping Encarnacion has an impact on them, too.

Up and down the lineup, those fans should see a lot more activity this season. Maybe that even means catching some of the 50 or more balls Jimenez could send into the seats.

"Why not?" Jimenez repeated. "Yeah, it’s a big number, but my goal is every year to have better numbers than the past year. So I think, one day, I can hit 50 plus. But let’s see."

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