White Sox rumors: Mike Foltynewicz draws interest from Sox after workout

Free-agent pitcher Mike Foltynewicz. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Free-agent pitcher Mike Foltynewicz. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

The latest White Sox rumors have the club linked to former All-Star right-hander Mike Foltynewicz as a potential addition to the mix for the starting rotation.

According to Jon Heyman of MLB Network, Foltynewicz recently held a throwing session for teams at Georgia Tech in Atlanta and was impressive. Heyman mentioned four teams, including the White Sox, as having at least some interest in adding the right-hander who opted for free agency last fall.

White Sox rumors: Mike Foltynewicz impressed several teams

Besides Chicago, the Minnesota Twins, New York Mets and Tampa Bay Rays are said to be considering a flyer on Foltynewicz. The Twins and Rays, in particular, make sense — their player personnel model is built on turning bargain acquisitions into major contributors.

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Our Vincent Parise mentioned earlier today the former All-Star as a potential bargain option for the rotation.

Foltynewicz was a first-round pick, 19th overall, by the Houston Astros out of Minooka High School, just southwest of Chicago, in the 2014 draft.

He played his first five seasons in the Astros system, making his major-league debut in their bullpen in August 2014 before he was traded in January 2015 with Rio Ruiz and Andrew Thurman to the Atlanta Braves for Evan Gattis and James Hoyt.

The Braves patiently waited for Folty to develop and there were growing pains. In 2015, Foltynewicz bounced back-and-forth between the Braves rotation and Triple-A Gwinnett, making 15 starts among his 18 appearances for Atlanta while posting a 5.71 ERA and 1.627 WHIP in 86.2 innings. He walked 29, struck out 77 and served up 17 home runs.

He opened 2016 back at Gwinnett, but after being recalled in early May stuck around with the Braves the rest of the way, starting 22 games and working 123.1 innings with a 4.31 ERA, 1.297 WHIP, 111 strikeouts and 35 walks, while getting better at keeping the ball in the park by allowing 18 homers — one more than in 2015 despite working nearly 40 more innings.

In his age-25 season in 2017, Foltynewicz pitched to a 4.79 ERA and 1.481 WHIP in 29 appearances, 28 starts, and 154 innings. He walked 59 and struck out 143 while allowing 20 homers.

But in 2018, everything came together. Foltynewicz recorded a 2.85 ERA and 1.082 WHIP while earning an All-Star berth, starting 31 games and pitching 183 innings, striking out more than a batter an inning for the first time with 202 Ks.

Tabbed to pitch the opener of the NLDS against the Los Angeles Dodgers, however, he was knocked out after just two innings, allowing four runs on three hits with three walks and five strikeouts. He gave up a leadoff homer to Joc Pederson in the bottom of the first and a three-run shot to Max Muncy in the second.

He was better in Game 4, but came out for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the fourth as the Braves had a prime scoring chance, runners at second and third with two outs while trailing 1-0. Kurt Suzuki delivered a two-run single to give Atlanta a lead, but they would lose the elimination game 6-2.

His 2019 season was marred by elbow problems that kept him out for most of the first month of the season and then struggled to trust his arm and his stuff when he returned, earning a trip back to Triple-A for six weeks after his ERA ballooned to 6.37.

After he came back to the big club in early August, he looked terrific the rest of the way — a 2.65 ERA and 1.075 WHIP over his final 10 starts, covering 57.2 innings. He struck out 55 and walked 17, finishing with a 4.54 ERA and 1.248 WHIP in 21 starts overall.

Folty was brilliant in Game 2 of the NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals, striking out seven and allowing just three hits and no walks in seven shutout innings, but was rocked in the decisive Game 5, recording just one out and allowing seven runs while facing eight batters as the Cardinals hung a 10-spot en route to a 13-1 series-clinching victory.

In 2020, Foltynewicz made exactly one start, taking the loss in a 14-5 thrashing at Tampa Bay after he allowed six runs on four hits with four walks and three strikeouts in 3.1 innings on July 27, giving up three home runs in the process and was outrighted to the club’s alternate training site two days later.

With his velocity down severely and having dropped a lot of weight unexpectedly, Foltynewicz was never able to pitch his way back to the Braves and opted for free agency in early November after he was not added to Atlanta’s 40-man roster.

In 2018, his fastball averaged 96.4 mph and was down to 90.5 mph in his lone start last season, according to FanGraphs.

The upside for Foltynewicz are that if his velocity is back where it was in that 95-96 mph range with a slider back in the mid-80s (it fell to 79.5 mph in his lone start last season), the White Sox could potentially add an All-Star caliber arm to the rotation at a bargain price.

There is a downside, of course. Foltynewicz is 29 years old and has had one outstanding season and a lot of so-so over the course of 686 major-league innings spread over seven seasons.

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That’s ultimately the question any team — including the White Sox — will have to answer when considering offering Foltynewicz a contract: Was 2018 the departure from the mean of an otherwise pedestrian career or is it a ceiling he can realistically approach once again?