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The road ahead for the top White Sox pitching prospects

Carson Fulmer, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez all have reasons to start 2017 in Charlotte, and optimism thereafter

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Baltimore Orioles v Chicago White Sox Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

If you don’t remember the specifics from the service-time game from Carlos Rodon and Kris Bryant and others, the baseball season is 183 service days long, but a player only needs 172 for a full year of service time. For players with clean slates, teams tend to wait a couple of weeks before calling up their top prospects in order to gain an extra year of service time, even if excuses are absurd, and shed only after the timing is all too convenient.

For Carson Fulmer, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, all of them have reasons to start the season in Charlotte or Birmingham. For one, the White Sox have five starters and a full complement of relievers with major-league contracts and/or no options, and they have some incentive to see whether James Shields is completely carbon. Individually, Fulmer and Giolito batted mechanics in 2016 and have work left to do in Triple-A, and Lopez only made 19 starts above A-ball before the Nats came calling for swingman help.

The complications for timing may arise down the road, as all three pitchers have accumulated at least a month of service time.

  • Fulmer: 33 days
  • Giolito: 39 days
  • Lopez: 44 days

It’s premature to break out the calendars and count, because if Shields and Derek Holland are useful and the other three stay healthy, then the White Sox may not have any reason to change things up until misfortune strikes or a trade market forms. But if the rotation crumbles and the entire process shifts toward service time concerns, the White Sox might want to wait until the second half of May to start the wave, which is a six-to-seven-week gap.

For the time being, the layer of five starters allows the White Sox to be positive about their prospects with less worry about painting themselves into a corner, which is nice.

Fulmer: His prospect stock took a hit during a turbulent season where all parties can claim a share of the responsibility — Fulmer, the White Sox, circumstances. If the White Sox are cautious on promoting pitching prospects during the nascent stages of a rebuild, they can point to Fulmer for the dangers of forcing a fit.

Yet the White Sox sound convinced that his strong finish was more than luck. You’ll hear the typical “stay tall” command that is applied to every Sox pitching prospect, but Richard Dotson says it’s even more important for the 6-foot Fulmer, whose fastballs sailed on him last year.

“I saw him push the ball a lot.” Dotson said, ““Yeah he throws 95, so what? It’s up in the zone and he pushes it.”

Fulmer’s “shot out of a cannon” delivery seemed like an element the Sox would try to change but Dotson was fine with it, as long as rushing toward the plate didn’t cause him to start dropping down before his release and get below the ball.

“One of the things we talked about was just tempo,” Dotson said. “Control your delivery, that’s all. I don’t want you to slow it down, control it. I want you to have tempo and pace.”

Giolito: The Washington Post spent time this week documenting how and where things went wrong between the Nationals and their former top prospect. “Stay tall” is a part of that one, too.

“Last year my stuff was not nearly as good as should be,” Giolito said. “My mechanics were way off. When I’m throwing across my body, I lose the life on my fastball. I lose the angle on my fastball, which is my bread and butter — throwing downhill, using my height to my advantage. I didn’t have any of that. Not good.”

The Nationals, Giolito said, had made some small alterations to his mechanics, in the front (or “loading”) half of his delivery. In his offseason throwing program, and this spring, the White Sox have stressed getting back to basics and a more natural motion.

If Giolito can recapture his mechanics, then the next White Sox stamp will be an effort to use his curves for strikes, and not just as a chase pitch. That brings to mind Carlos Rodon, who liked Omar Narvaez’s calls for more backdoor sliders.

Lopez: He passed Giolito on many prospect lists by the end of last season, but the reactions of Rick Renteria and Don Cooper suggest that he has the tendency to go undercovered.

"He's looked good from the get-go," pitching coach Don Cooper said. "The bottom line is we like all three of them. I didn't hear a lot (about him). When people are asking me questions it's usually about Giolito and Kopech. I'm not sure why because he's a gifted kid. He's got some stuff." [...]

"Lopez is a guy who maybe goes under the radar a little bit, but when you see his bullpen work, he's pretty clean, pretty efficient," Renteria said. "He hits his spots."

The story hasn’t changed in terms of the task ahead — his changeup is behind his fastball and curve -- but they’re apparently pleased with the way he’s set out to go about it.