The Situation: The Tigers attempted to address their rotation need in the offseason by signing front-end starter Jordan Zimmermann. Unfortunately the injury bug has struck the back-end of the rotation early, with Shane Greene expected to miss two starts, of which the Tigers have committed at least one to Fulmer. In part due to a matchup, Brad Ausmus said, Fulmer was picked over Matt Boyd, which should put some pressure on with another major-league ready arm available in Toledo.
Background: Drafted 44th-overall by the New York Mets in 2011 at a very good time to be a pitching prospect with the Mets. His first few seasons were a mixed bag, but from 2014 to 2015 he made a huge jump as a prospect, mastering Double-A despite being two-and-a-half years younger, on average, than his competition. Midway through the 2015 season he was shipped to Detroit in the Cespedes trade. Though he was not the top prospect in New York, he immediately has become the Tigers top prospect, and has done well in his three starts with Toledo to start the year showing a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.0.
Scouting Report: Fulmer sports simple mechanics and an easy delivery from a high three-quarters arm slot that generates easy velocity. His fastball has always been his calling card with a future 70 grade because of his ability to keep the ball down in the zone, while hitting 95 consistently, and touching as high as 98. The arm-side movement on the ball only adds to the pitch, though he commands it better to his glove side. He has shown the ability to throw well to lefties and righties, but can get into trouble if he has trouble locating arm side.
Fulmer also features a wipeout slider that sits in the high 80s and will hit 90, all consistently coming from the same arm slot as his fastball. This leads to big-time swing-and-miss potential, especially when he is as confident in the pitch as he is. He is not afraid to throw it at any time, either in or out of the strike zone in order to work hitters. He needs to work on his overall command with the pitch, but it flashes plus-plus while sitting as a 60 currently.
The changeup is often what holds pitchers back from making that big leap, and that is the case with Fulmer as well currently. Though he has flashed an average change at times throughout his career, many see it as a fringe offering at best. The lack of consistency and inability to keep it down has lead most to write the pitch off as anything that will be average. This will hold him back from being a true front-end starter, but doesn’t necessarily preclude him from attaining mid-rotation starter status either.
Immediate Big League Future: The Tigers are in win-now mode, and will need to get the most out of every starter they can. With the team more or less saying he has one start, and from there they may go with Boyd, it shows that anyone that comes up will have to hit the ground running. Fulmer can come up and be a workhorse at the big-league level with two plus to plus-plus offerings and the ability to throw up to 175-180 innings (depending on what limits the Tigers will have on him after a 125 IP 2015). Though he is not an ace, it shouldn’t surprise to see him as a long-term, big-league pitcher whose ultimate utility will be determined by the strength of his third offering. —Grant Jones
Fantasy Take: Fulmer saw his stuff tick up a year ago, which directly translated into more strikeouts and higher fantasy potential. He was traded to Detroit and has subsequently struck out 53 batters in just 47.0 innings (27.5 percent) between Double-A and Triple-A. How translatable that is to the big-league level is questionable, especially due to a fringy third offering that could lead to platoon issues, which were significantly present in 2014 before declining a bit in 2015. The right-hander profiles much more like a mid-rotation fantasy starter who is solid across the board, rather than a potential top-30 starter, and a move to the bullpen isn’t out of the question.
Fantasy owners should proceed with caution and avoid breaking the bank, as Fulmer may only start a game or two before returning to Triple-A or being shuffled to the bullpen. He could return later in the year; however, it’s not worth investing too much FAAB in a non-elite fantasy prospect who isn’t guaranteed long-term playing time. In other words, this isn’t a Blake Snell situation. Fulmer isn’t that type of pitching prospect with the ability to strikeout 200 batters over a full season. Throw a few bucks at him on the waiver wire and hope he pitches so well that the Tigers are forced to keep him in the rotation, but otherwise, it’ll probably be best to wait until his presumed second call-up in the mid-to-late summer. —J.P. Breen
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