White Sox: Should Carson Fulmer be a Relief Pitcher in 2017?

Jul 31, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Chicago White Sox relief pitcher Carson Fulmer (51) pitches to the Minnesota Twins in the game at Target Field. The Twins win 6-4. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 31, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Chicago White Sox relief pitcher Carson Fulmer (51) pitches to the Minnesota Twins in the game at Target Field. The Twins win 6-4. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports /

White Sox fifth ranked prospect struggled in the bullpen last season, but was solid as a starter to end 2016 in the minors. Can the 2015 first round pick succeed as a starter or reliever in MLB?

The Chicago White Sox first round (eighth overall) selection of the 2015 MLB Draft was a 6′ hurler from Vanderbilt University in the form of Carson Fulmer. Fulmer, 23, was looked at as one of the most highly regarded pitchers coming out of college. In his first two seasons at Vanderbilt, Carson was utilized as primarily a relief pitcher; appearing in 52 games and being a reliever in 42 of them.

He had incredible success going 10-1 with a 2.20 ERA and a 9.10 K/9 between his freshman and sophomore year. Fulmer’s junior year he made the conversion to a starter and managed to raise even more eyebrows than ever; going 14-2 with a jaw dropping 1.83 ERA. If that was the case, why would the White Sox even consider converting the Vandy prodigy back to a reliever? Here are a few reasons why.

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His closing experience at Vanderbilt

Yes, it was only 14 total saves at his time at Vanderbilt, but it’s closing experience nonetheless. Before Fulmer was even a freshman in college, longtime Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin spoke highly of the passionate and already mature right hander during his recruitment process:

"“He was so completely independent in the recruiting process. I never ran across a young man like that. He defined the parameters of how he was going  to be recruited.”"

Clearly, that was an indication of things to come. That immediate sign of maturation in college might transfer over to the big league level as well.

If current White Sox closer David Robertson is indeed dealt at some point this season and young flamethrower Zack Burdi is still developing in the minors, Fulmer can be thrown into the closer’s role and could possibly flourish there for years to come.

Staggering amount of young arms in the White Sox farm system 

Before the White Sox dealt Chris Sale and Adam Eaton for top of the line pitching prospects, the Sox farm system was about as non existent as a graveyard. Fulmer, along with 2016 first round pick Zack Collins, were the only two White Sox prospects in the top 100 prospects list according to Baseball America. 

Those two trades revitalized the White Sox farm system. Adding top prospects Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech, Reynaldo Lopez, Victor Diaz and Dane Dunning. Just like that, Fulmer went from the driver’s seat to the back seat in a matter of two December trades. Spencer Adams, Tyler Danish, and Chris Beck are already White Sox prospects who are trying to fight and claw their way into a potential rotation spot at the big league level. With guys like Giolito, Lopez, and Kopech less than a year away from being MLB ready, the White Sox front office may want to think twice about adding Carson Fulmer into the big league rotation.

His brief stint at the MLB level out of the bullpen

When you start your career by striking out a future first ballot Hall of Famer in Albert Pujols on three pitches, that’s usually a sign of great things to come. Unfortunately, things went downhill from there for Fulmer last season. Fulmer was called up for his debut at the end  of July. He went on to appear in eight games out of the bullpen and recorded a disastrous 8.49 ERA in 11 innings of work.

While that may look like a potentially failed prospect, it’s experience. It is experience out of the bullpen that Fulmer can be adjusted too. If Fulmer indeed does start his season in the minors, he should be placed in the bullpen to learn and overcome his struggles at the big league level last season.

Fulmer did make his first spring training appearance Saturday against the Dodgers and threw quite well; tossing two innings of shutout ball along with three strikeouts. It was also reported that Fulmer had indeed tweak his mechanics over the offseason to create more consistency.

Next: Melky Cabrera Vital to White Sox Success

If all goes well, expect to see Carson Fulmer as not only a reliever for the White Sox in 2017, but a very successful one as well.