Tigers claim Carson Fulmer, who marked start of White Sox’s first-round rut

(Photo by Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire)

The White Sox spent the 2010s trying to restore all sorts of first-round picks, so it’s not surprising to see another rebuilding team take Carson Fulmer off their hands when given the chance.

Fulmer, who was designated for assignment when the White Sox announced their 30-man roster on Thursday, is heading to Detroit, where he faces an uphill climb of even being the club’s best player with his last name.

The waiver claim closes the book on Fulmer, whose career was basically a quiet mess ever since the White Sox selected him out of Vanderbilt with the eighth overall pick in 2015. He posted a 6.56 ERA and finished 1.2 wins below replacement over four MLB seasons, over which his command of the zone never improved, partially because his velocity never made the jump once he switched to relief.

YearIPBB%Velocity
201611.213.292.8
201723.112.993.3
201832.114.692.9
201927.115.093.7

Considering he regularly worked at 96 as a starter for the Commodores, Fulmer’s lack of velocity even in shorter stints was a mystery. He even bypassed a September call-up to get started revamping his arsenal at Driveline Baseball in 2018, but didn’t show up in the results.

Then again, he never exactly dominated the minor leagues, either. His most effective stint with any upper-level affiliate was a 3.94 ERA with the Charlotte Knights in 2016 … over 16 innings. Fulmer’s fast-forward windup drew the scrutiny of scouts before the draft, casting doubt about his ability to repeat his mechanics well enough to big a big-league starter. The White Sox tried to slow him down, and when that didn’t pay off, they let him speed back up. None of the changes he tried ever seemed to matter.

It didn’t help that the White Sox couldn’t resist fast-tracking him. He was the first 2015 draft pick to reach the majors, as the White Sox pulled him out of Birmingham’s rotation to put him in the big-league bullpen. But then Robin Ventura, whose team was fighting for postseason relevancy at that point, didn’t commit to using him. Probably for good reason, but nobody benefited from the early call just the same.

Fulmer never lacked for outward confidence, and combined with his SEC-star pedigree and his willingness to issue an optimistic self-assessment at any moment, it all made him the pitching equivalent of Gordon Beckham in many ways, even if Beckham had the superior career. And hey, the Tigers gave Beckham a shot as well.

The bigger legacy might be Fulmer’s role in a string of proven college first-round picks whose supposed polish has yet to pay off for the White Sox.

  • 2015: Fulmer (8th)
  • 2016: Zack Collins (10th) and Zack Burdi (26th)
  • 2017: Jake Burger (11th)
  • 2018: Nick Madrigal (4th)
  • 2019: Andrew Vaughn (3rd)
  • 2020: Garrett Crochet (11th)

Madrigal and Vaughn are on encouraging tracks, and Crochet is probably more raw than refined given his short track record, but that four-pack before them is a cluster of injuries and shortcomings. James Fegan wrote about this draft trend at SoxFest in January, and while Fulmer wasn’t mentioned, his generosity as an interview subject came to mind.

The White Sox have spent their last two first-round picks on Nick Madrigal and Andrew Vaughn, undersized college players who tout gaudy statistical performance and polish to their games. In discussing both, Shirley praised them for having “great brains,” and being as enjoyable to talk to about baseball as to watch play. At which point WGN’s Mark Carman posed a great question of whether falling in love with such a profile would lead the Sox away from talented players who were not well-educated, articulate and blessed with the resources to play baseball year-round in sunny, suburban California.

It wouldn’t surprise me if this contributed to the Sox becoming attached. It probably took a back seat to the idea that they could iron out an unorthodox delivery (Chris Sale), and speed a polished collegiate starter through the minors (Carlos Rodón), but it seems to be a profile they’re attracted to. Tyler Danish, the Sox’s second-round pick in 2013, might’ve been in high school, but he checked the same boxes of “great competitor,” “compelling personality” and “sketchy delivery.”

Whatever the case, if Fulmer is indeed an enigma, and not just a pitcher underequipped to compete in the majors despite College World Series success, it’ll be Detroit’s mystery to solve. White Sox fans won’t handle it well if the Tigers somehow turn him around, but White Sox fans should know from the rebuild years that the “first-round” tag means less and less the further it’s removed from success.

(Photo by Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire)

Author

  • Jim Margalus

    Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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DrCrawdad

Great points! I wish Carson well, well sort of, just not against the Sox.

shaggy65

I suspect that the “articulate, well-mannered” personality is what led the Bears to pick Trubisky over Mahomes and Watson, which is strong evidence of the pit-falls of such an approach.

This article also helped me realize why I was excited when the Sox picked an unpolished, unproven player in the first round this year. It’s nice to know we can think at least a little differently.

As Cirensica

I wish Carson becomes Josh Hader when facing the Twins and the Indians, and that he becomes Carson when facing us. Other than that, I hope he finds a way to stay in the Bigs until he can retire comfortably.