Now that Lucas Giolito joined fellow White Sox prospects Reynaldo Lopez and Carson Fulmer in making his third start for the Charlotte Knights on Wednesday, let’s see how they stack up.
Lopez entered the season with the most major-league success of the three, and he resembled that form in his last start, which helped toward erasing the first start. His 2017 debut wasn’t typical, but Charlotte pitching coach Steve McCatty said he wasn’t the only pitcher to struggle for feel of the ball on a cold, windy opening night (although he added, “It’s a lot colder in Chicago.”)
With the Knights, Lopez has shown the same devastating fastball—he’s touched 100 mph in the past and peaked at 99 in his start at Durham—and slider as in past years. That combination would make him an effective late-inning option almost immediately, but the White Sox would like to see him develop into a long-term starter. To do that, he’ll need to harness his changeup and work to refine his curveball. In his start against Durham, scouts noticed that he nearly abandoned the changeup early on, choosing instead to use his breaking pitches to put hitters away.
That sounds like where he was last year, when he pitched a mixed bag of 44 innings for Washington, posting a 4.91 ERA as a 22-year-old.
Fulmer seems to have found a better groove in Charlotte, starting with his windup. Scouts were curious about how his fast-forward delivery would transfer to the pros, and after some public struggles in a year he described as a “roller coaster,” he has settled in on a more traditional tempo, with the wrinkle being that it starts from a stretch-like approach.
When I talked to him about it, he didn’t sound too attached to his signature herky-jerky delivery of the past, ceding that when he got to Double-A, “Counts got away from me.”
The same can be said for his approach. In Vanderbilt, he did a lot of damage with a pretty simple approach -- elevated fastballs setting up the sharp curveball — but he said he discovered the need for different looks in the pros.
He still likes his fastball (he really liked it on Tuesday), and the four-seamer and two-seamer serves as the foundation of his approach. From there, he’s added the cutter and a slider, which are two distinct pitches, both in terms of grip and use. He’ll throw the cutter in any count, while the slider is a breaking ball for strike-stealing (he said he throws it with a knuckle-curve grip, and the amount of tilt depends on the day). The true curve is still there, but he described it as a putaway pitch that he’ll often try to bounce.
He also emphasized that he liked the way he threw his changeup in his first start. He beat me to bringing it up.
Giolito turned in his best outing of the season against a pretty good Pawtucket lineup, showing a lot more feel for his curveball and being able to use it both earlier and later in the count. He’s still searching for his first strong finish, though.
After throwing four scoreless innings, he gave up a solo shot to Jackie Bradley Jr. in the fifth, then surrendered a leadoff walk and a homer in the sixth to fall behind 3-0. Yet he wasn’t entirely done, resulting in a sequence that embodies the enigma. He looked like he hit a wall after issuing the walk, bouncing a first-pitch fastball to Matt Dominguez, then grooving a second-pitch one ...
... only to come back and strike out Sam Travis on four pitches. Giolito got ahead 0-2, then snapped off two good curveballs, the second of which Travis could not resist.
5.2 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 8 K, 2 HR for Giolito. Did some good things, showed some big time curves, also wore down a bit at the end— James Fegan (@JRFegan) April 20, 2017
Giolito threw a season-high 103 pitches over a season-high 52⁄3 innings on Wednesday, so the hope is that maintaining mechanics into the mid-innings eventually becomes second nature, rather than something that requires vigilance and thus is subject to fatigue.