GLENDALE, Ariz. — Four years after he was drafted eighth overall by the White Sox, right-hander Carson Fulmer is fighting to re-establish himself as an important piece in their rebuild.
Fulmer doesn’t look like the same player he was last year at this time in spring training.
His long, shaggy hair, which he would tuck behind his ears, is now trimmed, and he shed 20 pounds this offseason.
Confidence-wise, he feels he’s in a better spot than he was last spring. And he’s determined to make the Sox’ Opening Day roster for the second consecutive season, even if it means he’s in a different role.
“I feel a lot better this year than I did the last two years,” Fulmer said. “Stuff-wise, I’m much more polished. A few outings, got myself in a few situations that could’ve spiraled, but I’ve been able to minimize. But altogether, I’m definitely setting myself up for a strong year.”
Last season, Fulmer broke camp as the Sox’ No. 5 starter, beating out one-time All-Star Hector Santiago in the process. Though it wasn’t his first taste of the majors — he played eight games in 2016 and seven toward the end of 2017 — Fulmer felt as though he’d finally made it in the majors.
But his pleasant dream quickly turned into a nightmare.
Outing after outing, he struggled with his command. And May 18, his final outing, was the last straw. Fulmer allowed three hits and eight earned runs in two innings. He walked five batters and only struck out two.
“He’s always confident, always aggressive, always prepared,” pitching coach Don Cooper said. “He got behind in the count. I know of no pitcher that can live behind in the count all the time.”
After the game, Fulmer was called into manager Rick Renteria’s office and told he was being re-assigned to Class AAA Charlotte.
“As a player, you’re frustrated,” Fulmer said. “You’re disappointed. . . . But at that time, I definitely needed to work on that stuff and just to respect the team and organization, just to get back as quick as possible, get back to work and try to get back up again.”
As September call-ups rolled around, Fulmer saw teammates at Charlotte getting promoted, but his phone never rang. He finished the season in Charlotte’s bullpen, going 5-6 with a 5.32 ERA. Sure, Fulmer was disappointed with the season, but he said he never second-guessed his ability to pitch at the big-league level.
“I didn’t have the results I wanted,” he said. “I knew what I had to work on to keep my job, and I take my craft very seriously, but I try not to get too discouraged — not at all, usually. It’s a learning experience. Everybody has their ups and downs, and luckily for me, it happened earlier in my career.”
Fulmer went back to basics this offseason and trained daily at Driveline Baseball in Seattle. He focused on polishing up his pitches and his fastball command.
“I have to show people that I am consistent,” he said. “That’s how you stick in the big leagues. I trust my ability. I know I can get guys out at that level. This will definitely be a good year for me — just have to get off to a hot start.”
Although Fulmer has been surpassed by other prospects, he said the Sox still think highly of him and he believes he’ll be a key player — even if it’s out of the bullpen.
“They have a lot of trust in me,” he said. “I’m just so excited to be here and be a part of this, and I think I can play a substantial role in this whole thing and contribute to quite a bit.”