Three years ago today Carson Fulmer was a young high school kid attending All Saints’ Academy in Winter Haven, Florida, where he continued to catch the eyes of scouts across the country each time he stepped on the mound. At the time, he was preparing to make a decision between attending Vanderbilt University or opting to begin his professional baseball career in the upcoming MLB Amateur draft, a choice that wasn’t easy for him.
A couple months later, in early June, the young Fulmer would be drafted in the 15th round by the Boston Red Sox, who had fallen in love with not only Carson’s ability, but the way he carried himself on and off of the field. Sadly though, even with the Red Sox’ best effort, they were unable to pull Fulmer away from Vanderbilt thanks to the draft budget that was established that year. The new budget rule at the time basically had made it so that teams could no longer spend whatever they wanted on their draft picks without penalty, something that affected the Red Sox and their signing strategy significantly. So once the Red Sox and Fulmer were unable to come to a common ground thanks to the money side of things, Carson went ahead and began his journey at Vanderbilt, where he has continued to exceed expectations year in and year out.
At Vanderbilt, Carson has switched from relieving to starting, both roles in which he has shown the ability to dominate in over the course of a season. During Carson’s 2013 freshman season, he worked exclusively out of the bullpen in 26 games, posting a cool 2.39 ERA across 52.2 innings. Along with that, he was able to show off his electric arm with a strong 8.72 K/9. The only thing that plagued him in 2013 was his inconsistent control, as he walked 4.27 batters per nine innings. Control is an issue, but it’s one that in most cases top prospects can overcome rather quickly after entering professional baseball and adjusting their mechanics a bit. Not to mention Fulmer’s mechanics are a bit different than most, which could explain why the control has been a bit sporadic.
The 2014 season was when Carson caught everyone’s attention in college baseball, thanks to him being one of the key pieces that helped win the College World Series for Vanderbilt. To begin the year Fulmer worked out of the bullpen closing games, where he seemed to blow away almost every hitter he faced. Thanks to the dominance he had in the bullpen, midway through the season he earned a promotion to the starting rotation. The transition was flawless as he registered a 1.98 ERA for the season between 10 starts and 16 relief appearances. Not only did he dominate in both roles, but he helped lead his team to the College World Series where they won their first championship ever against Virginia. Carson also improved his BB/9 ratio a bit during the season, finishing at 4.04 while his K/9 followed suit and finished at 9.04.
With the 2015 season still having a lot left in it, Carson has come on very strong in his first ten starts, posting an insane 1.69 ERA with already one complete game shutout. The most surprising thing about Fulmer this season, which has significantly raised his draft stock, is how much his control has improved as his BB/9 is now a solid 3.38. Along with that, his K/9 has shot through the roof as it is now an outstanding 12.66. A move to the starting rotation has seemed to improve the walking issue Fulmer has, and hopefully it continues to improve because the more it does the brighter his future is. Every year Carson seems to get better in a several aspects of his game, and the praise he has continued to get from coaches about his work ethic and will to win shows why he might have the best overall makeup in the draft.
The other night, Red Sox GM Ben Cherington was seen watching Fulmer, who could possibly be taken by them if he is still on the board at number seven. Rumors have been flying around lately that the Red Sox have serious interest in him, especially since the other prospects they were looking at before have been moved up in the draft thanks to injuries and long term health concerns. It doesn’t help either that the 2015 draft class is significantly weaker than the classes over the past few years, meaning that most prospects lack the kind of upside Fulmer has if everything pans out with his development.
At the moment Carson is throwing a mid-90s fastball that has dominated hitters in college, leaving many scouts to believe it could be a plus-plus offering at the major league level rather quickly. Along with the fastball is a low-80s breaking ball that Fulmer has already shown a very good feel for while in game, which scouts see as a future plus offering. The last pitch Fulmer has been using in his repertoire is a mid-80s changeup that is still a work in progress for him, but has serious potential if he can master it. For a kid who is 21, his stuff in terms of development is pretty far ahead, not to mention his feel for pitching according to many coaches is some of the best they’ve seen. Carson is willing to learn — he has been known to soak up any advice he can get like a sponge, which is something that goes a long way if you want to be successful in the big leagues one day. Seeing that in a young kid shows he means business when it comes down to his career in baseball.
An issue that is following Fulmer into the draft, though, is his delivery, which is a bit violent leaving many scouts unsure if he’ll be able to withstand throwing 200 innings a year at the major league level. It’s tough to change Carson’s delivery because its a huge part of why his arm is so electric and his stuff is so deceiving. If those parts of his game are lost, it would leave the righty in a pretty rough spot. But so far Carson has had no trouble physically thanks to his delivery, it’s just one of those things a team is going to have to let pan out over time. In a draft where there isn’t much game-changing talent, you have to take chances to ensure you don’t waist that top-ten draft pick. The Red Sox over the years have built one of the strongest farm systems in all of baseball because of some chances they’ve taken. It’s a must if you want to consistently compete at the major league level while having legitimate young talent waiting in the wings.
Even if Fulmer’s delivery banishes him to the bullpen, there’s nothing wrong with that; a dependable closer goes a long way in baseball today when it comes to winning championships. It isn’t like Carson’s stuff hasn’t shown the ability to go through a lineup multiple times though, so it will just come down to his ability to handle a major league workload. Even though Carson is only 6 feet and 190 pounds, I have no worry about his ability to withstand the rigors of a full season. Guys like Sonny Gray and Pedro Martinez have shown you don’t need to be 6’4″ to dominate. It will be interesting to see what coaches do with Fulmer wherever he is drafted, though — do you just let him pitch or change what made him successful? If something isn’t broken, don’t fix it is the way I look at it, especially if it’s the reason he’s a part of your organization.
With the draft still over a month away, who knows what might happen in terms of different injuries and performances. If I’m the Red Sox, though, I keep Fulmer high at the top of my list of draftees because this kid is something special. A guy with a desire to win as strong as Fulmer’s doesn’t fail in sports. On the field he is willing to do whatever it takes to win and put his team in the best position possible, something Boston fans have fallen in love with over the years thanks to Dustin Pedroia. With Carson now destroying college hitters after dominating with Team USA, there is no worry he can get hitters out at any level as he continues to grow. Health is hard to predict, of course, but upside to this degree can’t be overlooked by most sure bets. The Red Sox are very lucky to even have a second chance at Fulmer now three years later. If I’m them, I don’t blow it this time around.