With Eloy Jimenez now an everyday starter in the White Sox lineup, fans will likely begin to hear even more about his powerful swing as he crushes hopefully no less than 25 home runs this year. Along with the organization’s top prospect are several other young players poised for breakout seasons, and a few veterans with heavy bats on their shoulders too. With the power potential that is present in the lineup, White Sox should be hitting a lot of home runs this year and providing excitement to the fanbase in the process.
Due to all the news about our young sluggers and starting pitchers, one area of the White Sox that I rarely see being addressed enough is the bullpen. The media does not focus on it, and based on recent history, neither do Rick Hahn and Kenny Williams when speaking publicly. A good bullpen is essential to winning baseball games, and its importance skyrockets in the playoffs, as we’ve seen in recent years. Despite this, the White Sox front office has historically assembled some ugly bullpens. Since 2000, the White Sox have had four relievers in the All Star Game: Jesse Crain (2013), Matt Thornton (2010), Bobby Jenks (2006, 2007), and everyone’s favorite kingpin, Esteban Loaiza (2003, 2004). However, aside from the underwhelming past, there is plenty of reason to get excited about the future of the White Sox bullpen, so I want to take the time to discuss some of the younger guys that will likely be running out from left field at some point this season.
Carson Fulmer (RHP)
First up on the list is 25-year-old right-hander Carson Fulmer. To this point, he has not been very good at all during his time on the South Side. This offseason, however, it appears that he lost a decent amount of weight, and looks a lot more like he did during his Vanderbilt days. Fulmer has also never appeared in more than nine games in a season, so his Major League sample size is still relatively small. Whether he will end up as a long reliever, which appears most likely, or perhaps even a back-end starter, do not give up on Fulmer quite yet. His K/9 ratio has steadily risen, and he still has all the tools that he had when he was nearly unhittable for the Commodores a few years ago.
Ian Hamilton (RHP)
Ian Hamilton is a 23-year-old stud with everything you want from a late inning reliever. A plus-fastball and a plus-slider coupled with an above average control on pitches will make him versatile, so it will be interesting to see what role he will eventually take on. Hamilton was rushed a bit to the majors in 2018, smearing his otherwise solid stats from the minor-league portion of his season. In 21 games for the Barons, he was up to a 12.08 K/9, 4.26 BB/9, and his ERA was 1.78. At Triple-A with the Knights, he pitched in 22 games. His 9.57 K/9 was lower than in Double-A, but his walk rate dropped significantly to 1.37 BB/9, and his ERA dropped to 1.71. Hamilton’s stint in the majors was admittedly not great, but the important thing in my mind is that he kept his walks low despite the rest of his numbers getting worse. If he can maintain his control while spending just a little more time coming into his own, Hamilton will be dangerous as a late-inning guy mixed with the veteran presence of Kelvin Herrera and Alex Colome.
Zack Burdi (RHP)
At 24-years-old and standing about 6’3 is my favorite of the White Sox relievers. Zack Burdi is flat out filthy. Boasting an 80-grade fastball that steadily sits in the high 90’s and occasionally reaches triple digits, there is no question that Burdi has the stuff to be great. His 100 MPH fastball, by the way, has about six-inches of movement on it too. His slider was graded 60, but should probably be a bit higher. Burdi throws it for strikes, but lacks the true command that he will need to make the pitch effective. A plus-changeup rounds out Burdi’s arsenal, and that arsenal has proven to be deadly throughout his career to date. Since reaching Double-A, Burdi’s FIP has stayed below 4.00, and his K/9 has not dropped below 12.38. Unfortunately, Tommy John surgery sidelined him for almost all of 2018, but he is expected to recover fully. If you ever get bored at work or in class, watch Burdi’s pitching highlights from Louisville. This kid has some magic, and if he gets healthy, he will not be a fun person for opponents to go up against.
Jose Ruiz (RHP)
Formerly of the San Diego Padres, Jose Ruiz was claimed off waivers by the White Sox in 2017, and is another fun guy to watch. He has a nice trio of a fastball, slider, and changeup that he has used to post consistently good stats in the minor leagues. He is not a guy to be hung up on, as he will likely fill a middle-relief role for the Sox long term, but I do expect him to be around so he was worth bringing up.
While only a few guys really stand out in the minors, some other names worth keeping an eye on are: Jordan Stephens, Konnor Pilkington, Jonathan Stiever, Kodi Medeiros, and Spencer Adams. All five have shown good ability so far, and while none of them are going to blow anyone away, at least one or two will put on a Sox jersey within the next few years.
Rick, Kenny, and the rest of the front office missed out on the two marquee free agents, Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. I get it, but I am still upset as I’m sure other fans can relate. You said the money will be spent, so let’s talk about how it can be spent. The next few free agent classes include some of the best relievers in baseball, not to mention that Kimbrel is still a free agent right now. After this season, it is unclear how good the Sox will be. For all we know, they could win the division or finish dead last, so it is hard to determine next offseason’s plan right now. However, if we want to win, the tools will be there.
- 2019-2020: Dellin Betances, Arodys Vizcaino, Ryan Pressly, and Sean Doolittle (club option). None of these guys make me want to spend tens of millions of dollars, but if a guy like Vizcaino or Doolittle could be had for a fair price, I would love to see them at The Rate next season.
- 2020-2021: Blake Treinen, Jeremy Jeffress, Alex Colome, Brandon Morrow, and Andrew Miller (club option). This is where the fun begins. Nothing says we want to win like signing a Brandon Morrow or an Andrew Miller, some big name relievers who are going to blow pitches by the opponent. I love it, I want it, and hopefully Jerry will provide the money to get it.
- 2021-2022: Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, Brad Hand, Jeurys Familia, Corey Knebel, Archie Bradley, and Raisel Iglesias. Looking three years in the future is hard with relievers who are almost all thirty-years-old to beign with. By this point, either the White Sox will be good or we will not need bullpen additions. Even into their mid-thirties, players like Chapman, Jansen, or Knebel will be difference-makers. If the White Sox are a piece or two away from making a World Series, I would spend whatever it takes to solidify the bullpen and try to get that ring, even if it means slightly overpaying for an older player.
It is impossible to say where the White Sox will be one, two, or even three years from now. The team has some great young players, and all we can do is hope that some of them pan out. The weapons are there, and whether it comes from our farm system or free agency, I do not think White Sox fans will have to experience another 20 year period in which Jesse Crain is considered to be one of our better bullpen options. Let’s keep looking forward, and get through what is hopefully the final season of being irrelevant before the team turns around.
Featured Photo: NBC Sports Chicago