Carson Fulmer has an enigmatic identity. As Eric Longenhagen wrote last month, the 22-year-old right-hander “was perhaps the 2015 draft’s most polarizing prospect,” thanks in part to an electric arsenal and a delivery “paced like a hummingbird’s heart beat.”
He got to the big leagues in a hurry. Fourteen months after being taken 8th overall out of Vanderbilt University, Fulmer has made eight appearances out of the White Sox bullpen. That’s another part of the intrigue. Fulmer fashions himself a starter, as do many, but not all, talent evaluators. Perhaps apropos, his early results have been a mixed bag.
Fulmer talked about his game when the White Sox visited Detroit earlier this month.
Fulmer on self-identity and learning: “Every pitcher can tell you that he knows himself, for the most part. At the same time, you’re constantly trying to learn more about yourself. I’m learning every single day. That’s through the adversities I’ve faced, and even from playing catch.
“Just like in a game, sometimes you play catch and don’t feel a certain pitch. How do you get to the point where that pitch feels good? How do you feel good when you don’t feel good? That’s a good time to evaluate yourself and get over those hurdles.
“The most important thing I’ve learned in my little up here is that you don’t want take the approach of trying to throw the baseball by some of these guys. It’s not going to happen. Being able to mix up and create movement, and trust that movement you’ve been working so hard on, is really the only thing you can do. You have to stay simple and to your approach.”
On the power-pitcher label: “I do like it. As a kid, you want to throw hard. But again, when you get to this level it’s not just about throwing hard. It’s about throwing hard and executing your pitch. And you have to continue to mix up. In college, I’d usually be fastball, curveball. Here, I have to throw my cutter and my changeup, especially early on in counts.
“My velocity isn’t down. I feel it’s pretty good — I’m 93-96 — so I’m right around where I want to be. I throw both a two- and a four-seam fastball. When I’m starting, I start off with a lot of four-seams then mix in two-seams here and there. Relieving, you don’t really have the opportunity to do that. It’s basically fours.”
On his new changeup: “It’s kind of like a fosh. It’s split a little bit, but not a full splitter. I’ve had problems throwing my circle changeup too hard, and I’ve definitely paid for it, so I’m working with the new grip, trying to take that velocity off.
“I learned my changeup this spring, from my Double-A pitching coach, J.R. Perdew, and I’ve been working on it a lot with Coop (pitching coach Don Cooper). It’s been starting in the zone and falling out, and I need to a better job of throwing it for a strike. I learned my cutter this spring, as well.”
On the team asking him to slow down his delivery: “Not now. That was in the spring, and an experiment that didn’t fit who I am. I don’t like changing a lot of things, especially when it comes to my mechanics. I’m a smaller guy (Fulmer is listed at 6-0, 195) who likes to generate a lot of power. Having that up-tempo and that explosion toward home plate is just how I pitch.
“It’s about having momentum from the start. I like to start quick and explode down the mound. I had trouble finding (a comfort level) when I tried to slow things down. I feel good now, right where I want to be.”
On striking out Albert Pujols — the first batter he faced in MLB — on three pitches: “I went fastball, then changeup down and in, then breaking ball. He took the first pitch, swung through the changeup, and then it was a check swing on strike three. Luckily, it turned out in my favor. He’s a guy I’ve been watching ever since I was a little kid, and one of the best hitters in the game.
“It was surreal. When I got to the mound, I’d totally forgotten who I was facing, even though I was told probably three times. It was my first time out there and I guess I kind of lost my train of thought. That was before he stepped in the box, though. Once he did, I realized who I was facing. It was a great experience and one I definitely won’t forget.”
On pitching out of the bullpen and keeping things simple: “I don’t view it as just an opportunity to pitch, but rather as an opportunity to help my team get a W. These are moments you dream about — coming into tight situations — so you get yourself mentally prepared to do whatever you need to do to help your team win that baseball game.
“I was drafted as a starter — that’s how I see my future — but I don’t ask a bunch of questions. I just keep my head down and do whatever the club wants me to do. But I definitely want to start. That’s how I view myself. A lot of people would say they don’t agree, but that’s where I’m most comfortable, and it’s what I want to be later in my career. But again, right now I’m just focusing on helping the team any way I can.
“I keep things simple and I’ll continue to keep things simple. I’m a fiery guy. I don’t care about stats; I just want to win. I don’t get too deep into reports. At the end of the day, it’s your best stuff against the hitter. There’s going to be an outcome to the at bat, and if I attack the hitter, and I have conviction in what I throw… that’s how I keep the game simple. That’s who I am.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.