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How do you spell relief? Longshots for the 2019 White Sox bullpen

Winding up our series, here’s a look at the wild cards for the South Side reliever corps

MLB: Texas Rangers at Chicago White Sox
Long road back: Fulmer broke camp in the White Sox rotation in 2018. It’s unlikely he’ll be doing the same in 2019.
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Before this offseason, the Chicago White Sox were loaded with high-ceiling, but not-ready-for-prime- time pitchers, like Ian Hamilton, Zack Burdi, Ryan Burr, and Thyago Vieira. With several recent additions via trade and free agency, the White Sox now have several veterans to add to this list. By my count, there are 21 pitchers who have the potential to pitch this year in a White Sox uniform:

  • The incumbents: Manny Bañuelos, Alex Colomé, Dylan Covey, Jace Fry, Kelvin Herrera, Nate Jones, Juan Minaya were profiled on Sunday.
  • On the cusp: Aaron Bummer, Ryan Burr, Caleb Frare, Ian Hamilton, José Ruiz, Jordan Stephens, Thyago Vieira were profiled on Monday.
  • Longshots: Zack Burdi, Randall Delgado, Carson Fulmer, Jacob Lindgren, Evan Marshall, Zach Thompson, Colton Turner

This may even be on the light side, as I’m not including guys like Matt Foster, Tyler Johnson, and Hunter Schryver, who will likely begin the season with Birmingham. Obviously, not all 21 of these guys will make it to the big show this year; shoot, with this deep a group, some may get traded before the season even starts.

The White Sox have an interesting array of rehabbing relievers, fallen prospects, and change-of-scenery pitchers from other systems who comprise our “wild card group.” Any one of these pitchers could parlay a hot Cactus League into a big league bullpen berth.

Ages are as of April 1, 2019.

Zack Burdi (24): Since his selection as a first round compensation pick from Louisville in 2016, Burdi has been considered by many to be the White Sox “Closer of the Future.” However, that future has taken a detour as a result of Burdi undergoing Tommy John surgery in June of 2017. He partook in a late-season rehab assignment for the AZL White Sox last year, and fared decently in the Arizona Fall League before being shut down early due to fatigue. Burdi’s fastball hasn’t been nearly as electric as it was pre-surgery, but some pitchers can take up to two years to regain their velocity. According to MLB Pipeline, which ranks him 17th among White Sox prospects, Burdi has an 80-grade fastball while also featuring a plus slider and changeup. In his three minor league seasons, Burdi has posted a terrific 32.8 K% — but a high 12.3 BB%. How quickly he improves his control and command may play an even larger factor in Burdi’s earning a promotion than regaining his triple-digit fastball.

Randall Delgado (29): Despite Delgado’s relative youth (he turns 29 in February), he already has eight major league seasons under his belt with the Atlanta Braves and Arizona Diamondbacks. Last year was his most difficult season to date, however, as he posted a 4.76 ERA and 1.50 WHIP in an injury-marred campaign. Beginning in 2014, Delgado has been a low-leverage reliever with the Diamondbacks, with his best year perhaps being 2017 (3.59 ERA and 1.18 WHIP over 62 23 innings, with a .251 OBA, 5.4 BB%, and 23.2 K%). For his career, Delgado has averaged a 4.10 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 8.8 BB%, and 20.2 K% — decent, but unspectacular numbers when considering he only has two career saves. Delgado does have a five-pitch repertoire, but his four-seam fastball averaged 92.1 mph last year per Baseball Savant. He also features a changeup, sinker, curve and slider. He signed a minor-league contract with the White Sox on January 4.

Carson Fulmer (25): Much has been said of Fulmer over the past couple years, most of it bad words, for good reasons. His results have been mediocre at best in the minors, and Fulmer’s results last year with the White Sox were difficult to watch (8.07 ERA, 1.89 WHIP, .280 OBA, 14.6 BB%, 17.7 K%). Most scouts had Fulmer projected as an eventual high-leverage reliever, but the White Sox did everything in their power to validate this former first-round pick as a starting pitcher. Fulmer, with his smallish size and uptempo delivery, is indeed better suited for the bullpen. First, he needs to regain his confidence. He took baby steps in that direction in August and September last year with Charlotte as he adjusted to his new role, and he’ll need to continue his improvement and consistency if he expects to return to Chicago at some point next year. Fulmer has one option remaining, and will no doubt begin next season with Charlotte. Side note: There is still hope, as evidenced by Zach Thompson’s vast improvement last year (see below).

Jacob Lindgren (26): Lindgren was signed as a minor league free agent on January 4, and that under-the-radar pickup may well be one of the best White Sox acquisitions of this offseason. He was drafted by the New York Yankees in 2014’s second round out of Mississippi State University, and in his first season as a pro, Lindgren struck out 48 hitters (46.2%) in 25 innings pitched while only relinquishing 12 hits (.135 OBA). His fastball and slider were rated 60 and 65 respectively by MLB Pipeline in 2015, with the fastball peaking in the upper 90s and slider topping out at 89-90 mph. In 2015, Lindgren excelled, and eventually made his MLB debut with the Yankees. However, his season was cut short after undergoing season-ending surgery to remove a bone spur in his elbow. Unfortunately for Lindgren, he also underwent Tommy John surgeries in August 2016 and March 2018. If healthy, this southpaw will likely begin the season with Charlotte or even Birmingham (to shake off some rust). It may take a while, but Lindgren has the potential to pitch for the White Sox sometime this year.

Evan Marshall (28): Marshall is seeking to pitch for his fourth team in the majors, following stints with the Diamondbacks, Seattle Mariners, and Cleveland. His results at the highest levels haven’t been pretty during his five-year major league career, as Marshall has posted a career 5.15 ERA and 1.74 WHIP over just 92 23 innings by allowing 122 hits (.322 OBA) and 39 walks (9.2%) while fanning 83 (19.5%). He has pitched in some bad luck throughout his career, as his career FIP is actually a respectable 4.00. His career was briefly stalled after being struck in the head by a line drive on Aug. 4, 2015. The ball, traveling 105 mph, struck Marshall in the right temple. He suffered a fractured skull, and 90 minutes later he underwent emergency surgery to relieve swelling and bleeding of the brain. Amazingly enough, Marshall returned to pitch for the Diamondbacks just a month later. Then, in 2017, Marshall suffered a gruesome hamstring injury. Marshall’s four-seamer and sinking fastballs both averaged more than 93 mph last year according to Baseball Savant, and his repertoire also includes a changeup and slider. While his results haven’t been very good thus far in limited stints in the majors, don’t bet against this fighter in earning his way to the White Sox at some point in 2019.

Zach Thompson (25): Around the midway point of the 2017 season, Thompson’s career was at a crossroads. In 14 starts for Winston-Salem, the former fifth-round pick posted an unsightly 5.52 ERA and 1.65 WHIP; then, he converted to the bullpen, where his results weren’t much better as he was adjusting to his new role. But last year marked the beginning of what the Sox first envisioned for this 6´7´´, 230-pound hurler. Split evenly between Winston-Salem and Birmingham, Thompson compiled a 1.55 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 75 13 innings — surrendering 57 hits and 29 walks while striking out 76. MLB Pipeline gives him a 60 grade for his 95 mph heater, and a 55 for his spike curveball. By focusing on those two pitches, and seeing his fastball tick up a bit in his shorter stints, Thompson’s future has become much brighter. Though he wasn’t protected with a 40-man roster spot prior to the Rule 5 draft, the White Sox still think quite highly of him. Expect Thompson to begin next season with Charlotte, with an opportunity for promotion if all continues to go well with his control and overall performance.

Colton Turner (28): Turner is old for a prospect, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have sufficient value. The 6´3´´ southpaw combined with Birmingham and Charlotte to post a 2.23 ERA and 0.90 WHIP in 64 23 innings, allowing just 44 hits (.190 OBA) and 20 walks (7.8%) while fanning 65 (25.4%). Per Baseball Savant, his repertoire includes a low-90s fastball, a slider in the mid-80s and a changeup that helps neutralize righties. In fact, lefties hit .189 against him this year compared to .190 versus righties. There’s certainly a logjam of southpaw relievers ahead of him, so Turner may have the most difficult path to the majors of all the pitchers listed here. However, if Turner continues to pitch well in 2019, he may earn his way to Chicago by season’s end.

While the 14 pitchers profiled in the first two stories of this series will gobble up the balance of bullpen slots in Chicago and Charlotte, there will be room for all seven of these guys at Triple-A, at a minimum, at some point in 2019. Relievers like Tyler Johnson, Matt Foster, Mike Morrison, and Hunter Schryver didn’t quite make the cut for this “longshot” grouping, but including them, that’s 11 guys who will be nipping at the heels of the Knights — and eventually the White Sox. And if a guy appears too blocked by more experienced/better arms above them in the organization, they stand a great chance to be swapped out to other teams with more of a bullpen need than the White Sox. Overall, when a group like this is your third wave of potential major leaguers, you’ve got pretty solid bullpen options from which to draw. Well done, South Siders.