White Sox

What does the future hold for Carson Fulmer? White Sox still have high hopes

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USA TODAY

What does the future hold for Carson Fulmer? White Sox still have high hopes

Tim Anderson is the shortstop of the future. Carlos Rodon seems a logical choice to be the Opening Day starter. Zack Burdi, Zack Collins, Jake Burger, Nick Madrigal — they all pop up on the list of top prospects in the organization.

They're all first-round picks of the White Sox in the last six drafts, and they could all end up playing significant roles in the White Sox bright future, one that's planned to yield a perennial contender on the South Side.

But you'll notice there's someone missing from that list.

Yes, the White Sox spent the No. 8 pick in the 2015 draft on Carson Fulmer, a name many White Sox fans might have already moved to the back of their minds despite the fact that he pitched for the big league team as recently as last May, and certainly one that few of those fans are including in their own long-term roster projections.

But the potential for Fulmer to wind up playing a significant role once the franchise shifts from rebuilding mode to contending mode still exists.

Skeptical? You're not alone. A fan stood up at SoxFest and made no effort to beat around the bush in asking Rick Hahn why Fulmer has been such a disappointment. Hahn provided a quippy retort: "So part of the Carson Fulmer fan club’s here tonight, good to see."

But the question wasn't exactly without merit, even if it was phrased a little bluntly and in a fashion that assumes that Fulmer will never contribute again at the big league level.

Though he made the Opening Day rotation, his 2018 season was nightmarish: an 8.07 ERA with 24 walks and just 29 strikeouts in 32.1 innings. He was quickly dispatched to the minors after his three May starts all came to abrupt endings and he allowed a total of 17 earned runs in only 7.1 innings.

And things didn't go much better at Triple-A Charlotte. Fulmer had a 5.80 ERA with 32 walks in 45 innings in his nine starts after getting sent down. But then the White Sox moved him to the bullpen, and things got better. In 16 relief appearances to close out the season, Fulmer posted a 4.37 ERA with only nine walks in 22.2 innings. See? Better.

It might not be enough to convince the skeptics that there's a role to play for the only recent first-round pick who's been cast aside by the fan base. But Hahn and the White Sox are keeping the faith.

Hahn's actual response to that fan's question touted the organization's belief that Fulmer can one day live up to that top-10 potential, even if it's as a bullpen pitcher rather than a dominant starter.

"Carson was probably the best college pitcher in the country when he was taken out of Vanderbilt, has — what the scouts would put on the 80-20 scale — 80 makeup. So the raw ingredients are there and the commitment to being great is there," Hahn said. "Quite frankly, he got rushed a little bit to the big leagues. He was put into a bullpen role after being a starter in the 2015 season. It was a rush to try to plug a hole in the major league bullpen.

"That probably didn’t do him a service for the long term, but it doesn’t change the fact that he still has that talent and still has that makeup behind him. ... There’s reason to be optimistic about him getting back to that stature he had when we took him.

"Right now, we’ll see how it plays out in the bullpen. Don’t rule anything out, given that he’s been there before and has the repertoire to do it (be a starting pitcher). But let’s start with success in shorter spurts and go from there."

Based purely on results, Fulmer's long-term future does appear to be a bit of a mystery. But the White Sox seem intent on doing what they can to make him a part of their bullpen of the future. When a return to the majors is possible, who knows?

But like a supervillain fleeing the scene of the crime, it seems you haven't seen the last of Carson Fulmer.

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Rick Renteria has a laugh at Cubs' expense in census PSA

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USA TODAY

Rick Renteria has a laugh at Cubs' expense in census PSA

"Even that team up in Wrigleyville counts."

White Sox fans probably have some varying opinions on that statement, but it was an unexpected laugh-worthy line in Rick Renteria's public service announcement encouraging folks to participate in this year's U.S. census.

In an otherwise standard pep talk from the South Side skipper, he assured every Chicago resident and every White Sox fan that they deserve to be counted in the every-10-years tally of the national population.

But even the manager had to chuckle when he got to this line: "I mean, even that team up in Wrigleyville counts."

Renteria has repeatedly expressed his lack of ill will toward his former employer on the other side of town and his gratitude for the Cubs giving him his first big league managerial job.

But a little neighborly ribbing between the two Chicago squads is always welcome. And in this case, it's for an important cause.

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Remember That Guy: White Sox reliever Neal Cotts

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Remember That Guy: White Sox reliever Neal Cotts

Neal Cotts was one of the stars of the 2005 White Sox bullpen, the top lefty in Ozzie Guillen’s relief corps.

Remember that guy?

Neal James Cotts celebrated his 40th birthday a week ago; he was born March 25, 1980 in Lebanon, Illinois, not far from St. Louis. A Lebanon High School product, he attended Illinois State and as a second round pick by the Oakland A’s (69th overall). At the time, Cotts was the second highest drafted player in ISU history, after Dave Bergman (second round, 36th overall in 1974).

Cotts started his pro career in 2001, posting a 2.73 ERA with 78 strikeouts in 66 innings across Vancouver (low-A) and Visalia (high-A). The next year for Modesto (high-A), he was 12-6 with a 4.12 ERA but struck out well over a batter an inning (178 K in 137.2 IP). He looked promising, if only he could cut down his walk totals (5.7 BB/9).

On Dec. 3, 2002, the White Sox traded Keith Foulke, Mark Johnson, Joe Valentine and cash to the A’s for Billy Koch and a player to be named later – Cotts – whom Oakland sent to the Sox on Dec. 16.

Cotts was excellent for Birmingham (AA) in 2003 and even started for the U.S. (under manager Carlton Fisk) in the 2003 Futures Game at U.S. Cellular Field. He made his MLB debut Aug. 12, 2003 at the Angels as a starter, going 2 1/3 innings, allowing two hits, two runs and six walks – including four in the third inning – and one strikeout (Shawn Wooten).

Cotts made four starts for an 8.10 ERA and was sent back down at the end of August. He had an encouraging minor league season, sporting a 2.16 ERA in 21 starts at Birmingham while striking out 133 in 108 1/3 innings, though the walk totals were still high. He made the transition to the bullpen in 2004, making only one start in 56 appearances. He struggled to adjust to his new role, finishing with a 5.65 ERA while striking out fewer than a batter an inning.

What happened in 2005, however, nobody would see coming.

Cotts walked a batter in each of his first four appearances of 2005 (five in three innings), but then walked only two over his next 13 games (10 2/3 innings). His positive roll continued, though he allowed three runs in his last appearance before the All-Star break to inflate his ERA to 2.86. He was nearly unhittable down the stretch, posting a 0.70 ERA in 35 games (25 2/3 innings) after the Midsummer Classic. He finished his season with a 1.94 ERA in 60 1/3 innings with 13 holds and a pair of saves, allowing just one home run.

Of 271 pitchers to toss at least 60 innings in 2005, Cotts’ home run rate (0.15 per nine innings) was the lowest. Here’s a fun fact: the highest home run rate (2.56) belonged to Ezequiel Astacio, with 23 in 81 innings. He was the pitcher who allowed Geoff Blum’s 14th inning blast in Game 3 of the World Series.

In the 2005 postseason, Cotts became the answer to a fun trivia question: who was the only White Sox reliever used in the ALCS? He retired two batters in relief of Jose Contreras in Game 1. Then the Sox cranked out four straight complete games. Cotts (1 1/3 innings, no runs) and Bobby Jenks (5 innings, two runs) were the two White Sox pitchers who saw work in all four games of the World Series sweep.

Like Cliff Politte, Cotts couldn’t find the same magic in 2006, as he posted a 5.17 ERA in 70 games. After the season, he was involved in what seemed like the rarest of trades – the crosstown swap between the White Sox and Cubs. The White Sox received pitchers David Aardsma and Carlos Vasquez in return.

The southpaw reliever from Southern Illinois shuffled between the Cubs and Triple-A Iowa over the next three seasons, though in 2008 he became the second hurler (after Bob Howry) to pitch for both the White Sox and Cubs in the postseason (Clayton Richard would later join them).

Cotts received the dreaded Tommy John diagnosis in mid-2009 and underwent elbow surgery in July. To make matters worse, the reliever had four hip surgeries starting in 2010. He tried to latch on with the Pirates in 2010 and the Yankees in 2011, but injuries wouldn’t allow him to throw a single pitch over a two-year span.

Cotts resurfaced in the Rangers organization in 2012 and finally worked his way back to the majors in 2013. On May 21, he threw his first major league pitch since May 25, 2009 in a remarkable story of perseverance. Not only did Cotts make it back, he turned in a career year, posting a remarkable 1.11 ERA in 58 games (57 innings). Of 330 pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched, only Koji Uehara (1.09) of the Red Sox was better.

Cotts struck out 65 batters that season and allowed fewer than a baserunner an inning (0.947 WHIP) for the only time in his MLB career. He regressed in 2014 (4.32 ERA in a career-high 73 games) and spent 2015 with the Brewers and, after an August trade, the Twins, posting a 3.41 ERA in 68 games.

The next two seasons saw Cotts sign with the Astros, Angels, Yankees, Rangers and Nationals, but he was unable to find his way back to the majors. He finished his MLB career with a 3.96 ERA in 483 games over 10 seasons. He had some ups and downs, but in 2005 Cotts was instrumental to the White Sox improbable World Series run.

You remember that guy.