Minor key: The last bullpen spot

Eighth spot to lose: Improbably, a combination of factors give Carson Fulmer the inside track on the final White Sox bullpen spot. (@Carson_Fulmer)


For some pitchers, a relief role is the path to glory and riches. For others, it’s a last stand, a last-ditch attempt to cling to the majors. The Chicago White Sox feature both extremes in their Cactus League bullpen at present, and all manner of pitchers in-between.

The former was taken care of this past weekend. Aaron Bummer’s job security wasn’t in question this spring, but the organization assured so in a big way after announcing a long-term pact with the lefty reliever on Saturday.

The White Sox are loathe to go through the arbitration process with their players, but this contract is a big win for the team beyond dodging that process with Bummer. The 26-year-old was selected in the 19th round of the 2014 draft out of Nebraska and underwent Tommy John surgery as a minor leaguer. After posting a 2.13 ERA with a 72% ground ball rate in 67 ⅔ innings in 2019, boasting a 1.3 fWAR powered by an elite sinker, Bummer has arrived as a fixture in the Pale Hose bullpen going forward.

Bullpens are fickle, and deals like this one are uncommon as a result. But the deal guarantees a payout of only $16 million, and the decision-makers likely see that as a pittance in the face of four years of arbitration under super two status for a pitcher like Bummer, who’s seen as a major spoke in the wheel. Regression could obviously occur, but Bummer’s current status and future promise is a massive scouting win for the organization, which should rightfully celebrate his arrival as a dependable big league reliever.


Judgment Day: Carson Fulmer

Carson Fulmer was the third-ranked player in the 2015  draft according to MLB Pipeline. In Doug Laumann’s final year at the helm, the White Sox used the eighth overall pick in an otherwise poor class on the righthander from Vanderbilt. Many observers praised the organization for selecting another quick-moving pitcher and nabbing the “best college starter” in the class.

Pipeline lauded Fulmer for his competitiveness and placed a 70-grade on his fastball with a 60-grade curveball. The 6´0´´ righty threw his fastball in the 93-97 mph range and had been named the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year. Fulmer displayed an electric arm, with a power breaking ball. Carson lacked prototypical size and possessed a tough-to-repeat, highly unorthodox delivery. Many evaluators questioned his command and control, wondering if he would end up in the bullpen down the road.

Fulmer didn’t throw enough strikes in college, and he hasn’t thrown enough strikes as a professional, either. Now hanging onto a roster spot tenuously, at risk of changing organizations, Fulmer’s future hinges on his ability to throw strikes this spring. The 26-year-old posted a 6.26 ERA in 27 big league innings last year, and that was after reworking his delivery in the offseason. He did average 13.5 K/9 with the Charlotte Knights with a 3.24 FIP — but also walked more than five hitters per nine as well.

Fulmer is the likely favorite to earn the eighth and final spot in the White Sox’s bullpen this spring. He’s out of options, and while losing him wouldn’t seem drastic, his draft status likely affords him one last shot in Chicago. He had a horrendous debut (two walks, two Ks, HBP, getting yanked mid-inning) in Sunday’s White Sox spring training opener, but Cactus League stats are a poor way to determine roster decisions; paying attention to how Fulmer looks and feels may end up being more appropriate. Fulmer’s cloudy future should be an interesting storyline to monitor, though, on a pitching staff lacking drama.


Easy decisions

With a 26-man roster taking effect in 2020, the White Sox will begin the season with eight relievers. Roster churn will bring a lot of new faces through Chicago during the course of the years, but the group likely to open the season won’t feature many surprises. The southpaw-hungry pen gives 26-year-old Jace Fry an easy spot, along with Bummer. Fry is a former third-rounder looking to bounce back in 2020, and controlling his walks will play a significant part in that quest.

Alex Colomé and Kelvin Herrera are back for another spin at the back end of the 2020 bullpen. They are both slated to make real money this year and will likely see high-leverage innings early in the season. Colomé is looking to keep thwarting his ugly peripherals, while Herrera just needs to remain healthy. Steve Cishek was signed as a free agent this offseason, and he should serve as quite an insurance policy for Rick Renteria.

Evan Marshall and Jimmy Cordero will likely receive spots as well. Marshall threw 50 ⅓ innings in 2019 and posted a 2.49 ERA. His walk rate increased, but he didn’t allow homers and kept the ball on the ground for the most part. The organization will pay the 29-year-old $1.1 million in 2020. Cordero was claimed off of waivers during the 2019 campaign and threw 37 ⅓ innings for the White Sox in 2019. The 6´4´´, 220-pounder throws very hard but doesn’t strike out many hitters. The sleeveless man posted a 2.89 ERA and is also out of minor league options, giving him an edge for  the big league roster.


Competition at camp

The White Sox released an extensive list of non-roster invites to spring training that included veteran journeymen along with pitching prospects from their own system. Zack Burdi, Matt Foster, Ian Hamilton and José Ruiz are members of the 40-man roster and the likeliest competition for the final spot on the big league roster. Ruiz has big-time power stuff, and threw 40 innings in Chicago in 2019. He’s not the front-runner for a spot breaking camp, but he’s definitely an option. The 25-year-old posted a 5.36 ERA in the majors.

Burdi was a first round pick in 2016 and is looking to finally crack into the bigs. The fireballer is healthy for the first time in awhile and could join the White Sox at some point during the 2020 season. Hamilton looked like a serious option at this time last year, but battled a facial fracture and injuries sustained in a car collision in 2019. Foster was a 20th round pick in 2016 and was added to the 40-man this offseason after posting a 3.76 ERA in Charlotte last year.

Kodi Medeiros, Drew Anderson, Bryan Mitchell, Jacob Lindgren, Caleb Frare, Brady Lail and Tayron Guerrero are some other arms who have an outside shot at a roster spot. Southpaws Medeiros, Lindgren and Frare have the benefit of being lefties, in somewhat high demand in the White Sox system. Mitchell, Anderson and Lail all have big league experience, and while they are more likely to pitch for the Knights than the White Sox, they still qualify as options. Guerrero throws extremely hard, but his peripherals leave much to be desired and is no longer a member of the 40-man.


Outside help?

Fulmer has the inside track at a roster spot due to his draft pedigree and option status, but he’s far from a lock. An outside addition via trade or waiver claim should also be considered a possibility in filling that final spot. The White Sox have added non-roster players to the roster prior to Opening Day in the past, and while it could happen again, its unlikely due to the names currently in the mix.

Fulmer’s grip on the final spot is shaky, and there’s a solid chance that his next big league game will be thrown in a different uniform. The ideal situation for the franchise would be someone like Hamilton or Burdi taking the reins and claiming a major league spot.

Who will be the eighth member of the White Sox’s bullpen to start the year? Internally, Ruiz appears to have the best shot at filling that role. From outside the organization, it’s anyone’s guess. The front office has an entire month to sort it out, and this whole exercise may seem futile once we get to March 26.

The biggest surprise would be to have a spring devoid of bullpen surprises.

 

Six Pack of Stats: Angels 6, White Sox 5

James McCann doubles home two runs, and Eloy Jiménez goes deep for the 21st time this season, but the Angels score late to earn the victory. (FanGraphs)

The tables turned as the Los Angeles Angels — instead of James McCann — put up four late-inning runs to secure the victory

I am beyond excited to finally make my South Side Hit Pen debut! Unfortunately, it comes after a late South Side loss. I will dive into the numbers of the night in hopes to surface with hope for evening the series tomorrow afternoon.

1

Without wasting any time, the White Sox scored the first run of the ballgame. Leury García led the game off with a triple, and Tim Anderson followed with an RBI-groundout for the opening run.

The Los Angeles Angels also used one (1) opener during the game. Noé Ramirez pitched 1 1/3 innings before Jose Suarez came onto the scene.

10

After a 410-foot opposite field home run — hit at 106 mph — Eloy Jiménez ties the former No. 10 Alexei Ramirez for the tenth spot on the White Sox rookie home run list.

80

Héctor Santiago threw only 80 pitches before he was taken out of the game. Amassing 4 2/3 innings, Santiago pitched well. With two back-to-back strikeouts to Mike Trout, that’s a success worth celebrating.

.191

Once again, James McCann keeps rolling. With two RBIs on a third-inning double, McCann had the highest WPA of the South Siders at .191.

-.637

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Evan Marshall had the worst win probability added. Giving up three walks and two runs (unearned), his -.637 WPA led the Sox into the losing direction.

40

The season is coming to a quick close for the Good Guys, as there are only 40 games left to the 2019 regular season. It’s time to really enjoy, but most importantly, learn during the last month-plus of baseball. Besides, I know that the South Siders are looking to avoid back-to-back 100-loss seasons.

Halo heartbreak

Eloy’s 21st homer puts him in the Top 10 in White Sox rookie history. / @WhiteSox

This game started off much more enjoyably than yesterday’s. For one, Mike Schur joined Jason in the booth and I didn’t have to mute my TV. Also, at about the same time Leury García hit a leadoff triple, Yoán Moncada hit a home run in his rehab start with the Charlotte Knights. Come back soon, Yo!

Anyway, back to the game. Tim Anderson grounded out following Leury’s three-bagger, but it scored Leury from third. José Abreu and James McCann both had good at-bats, but we departed our half of the first with just the lone run.

In the Angels half, Héctor Santiago gave up a leadoff single and subsequently walked the bases loaded with nobody out. At this point, Jason mentioned that Ross Detwiler was available for long relief, and I started drinking. After striking out Calhoun, Albert Pujols hit a comebacker to Héctor, who threw it to Welington Castillo, who threw it to Abreu for the 1-2-3 double play to get out of the inning unscathed.

credit baseball.theater

In the top of the second, after an Eloy single and a Welington strikeout, Noé Ramirez departed and Jose Suarez came in. I don’t hate the idea of an “opener,” as it seemed to work out pretty well for the Angels: Suarez retired the first two batters he saw.

Brian Goodwin tattooed a home run to lead off the bottom of the second inning.  For someone who had nine strikeouts in his last 16 at-bats, this ball was absolutely manhandled.

At this point, I opened a bag of dark chocolate & peanut butter Dove Promises and I was about to eat all 28 of them. I decided I’m going to require at least a six-run lead before I’ll be happy.  Maybe more, with Castillo behind the plate.

Engel bunted unsuccessfully. I ate more chocolate.

Leury struck out.  I ate more chocolate.

Anderson walked, and I put the bag down — but not out of reach. 

Abreu singled and McCann cleared the bases with a double, advancing to third on a series of unfortunate throws by Angels fielders. Abreu’s sliding technique could use improvement, but he didn’t get thrown out so we will take it!

credit baseball.theater

Not to be outdone by McCann, Eloy hit a bomb on a 1-2 count.  I no longer require your services, Dove chocolate. 5-1, Good Guys!

In the bottom of the third, Héctor struck out Mike Trout.  He did give up a home run to Justin Upton but he Struck. Out. Mike. Trout. He also struck out Kole Calhoun. Héctor? Damn near killed her! Who is this guy and where has he been while we’ve been suffering through Dylan Covey?

Guess what happened in the bottom of the fifth? MIKE TROUT STRUCK OUT AGAIN. Attaboy, Héctor!

Two on, two out in the fifth, Héctor out, Jimmy Cordero in. Cordero struck out Upton and here we are, sailing through the first half of the game up by three runs.

Cordero pitched the sixth inning without a hitch and after a walk and a strikeout in the seventh, his night was done. He and his 99 mph fastball racked up three strikeouts in 1 2/3 innings. Jace Fry came in to replace him in the seventh after Ohtani was announced as a pinch-hitter. Ohtani hit a single, and Evan Marshall came in for Fry. Marshall walked David Fletcher on four pitches to load the bases for Trout.

Where’s my chocolate, damn it?

Trout singled in two runs, Upton hit a double past Ryan Goins that should have been an out, tying the game, 5-5. An intentional walk to load the bases brought the force at any base back into play. By some miracle, Marshall struck out Albert Pujols. Marshall then walked in a run and I expressed my displeasure.

Yes, I kiss my mother with that mouth. Hers is worse than mine.

Josh Osich came in since Marshall went to be slaughtered in a ritual sacrifice needed reprieve, and got us out of the seventh. But the damage was done, and for the first time in the game, the Sox were behind, 6-5.

That is where we’d stay, as the White Sox were unable to make a comeback after that. The only noteworthy thing that happened in the ninth was Hansel Robles using the Undertaker’s entry music, which is pretty fantastic. Robles was able to lock it down for the Angels, so they took this one from us, 6-5.

I woke up early this morning to watch Premier League soccer, so my inspiration for my best and worst of the day comes from across the pond:

Mate of the game: a tie between Eloy (2-for-4 with two hits, a home run and two RBIs) and Héctor (4 2/3 innings pitched, allowing four hits and two runs. Two of his four strikeouts were of Trout)

Wanker of the game: Evan Marshall, y u no throw strikes, d00d?

Cease will pitch tomorrow at 3:07 p.m., hopefully we can turn it around and split the series! Brett Ballantini will be sprinting breathlessly between here and South Side Sox to provide our game coverage.