From the moment the Seattle Mariners selected Sam Carlson with the 55th overall pick, a vast amount of Seattle-based draft headlines pivoted over to the prep pitcher out of Minnesota. It was for good reason. Carlson is very young and very good and the last time the Mariners took a prep arm this high in the draft, he blossomed into one of the very top prospects in baseball. Carlson was, and is, an overwhelmingly exciting draft pick. The Mariners grabbed themselves a pitcher. Go Mariners.
Often lost in the shuffle, of course, is that the Mariners grabbed highly-regarded first baseman Evan White out of Kentucky with their first pick of the draft (seventeenth overall). I get it. First basemen who don’t have a tremendous power tool are rarely interesting. Mariners fans have had their hearts ripped out and spat on by first basemen in the past. ‘Evan White’ sounds like the default create-a-player name in sports video games. There is a lot working against him here.
That being said, there are quite a few people who get paid quite a few dollars to study prospects who considered Evan White to be a better prospect than Sam Carlson. Carlson was a steal, yes–perhaps the biggest steal of the draft–but White might be better. Things get hazy when you compare a college hitter to a prep pitcher, but at the very least, they are equally good prospects for the time being. We’ve talked up Sam Carlson to death, so let’s pivot over and see what makes Evan White so special.
How did he get here?
White wasn’t a star prospect when he arrived at Kentucky in 2014. He went undrafted out of high school and, while his .318/.369/.410 freshman year slash line was terrific, did little to establish himself as a name to watch in the 2017 MLB Draft class.
His stock skyrocketed fairly late, with a surge at the plate his junior season helping him jump up into first round conversation. On March 23rd, Baseball America had him ranked as the 63rd overall prospect in the draft. On June 9th, they predicted him to go 15th overall to the Houston Astros in their final mock draft. His rise at Kentucky was slow, and then all at once.
First, let’s just start with a couple looks at his swing:
There’s nothing too crazy here. His load is quiet. He has a small, but inconsequential leg kick. His hands don’t experience much movement prior to the swing, resting primarily up near his head. The swing itself is clean; the path is flat and the bat speed looks like a legitimate weapon. The obvious upside here is that the mechanics lend itself to limited swing-and-misses and should generate plenty of line drives. The downside here, of course, is just that: a line drive swing. A swing like this won’t produce a ton of home runs unless the hitter possesses Popeye arms and Barry Bonds legs.
Evan White does not have Barry Bonds legs, not even close:
This is where the questions begin.
- Do they try to tinker with his swing at all? I’m sure the Mariners love the traits that result from White’s current mechanics–great contact rates, gap power, and so on–but it’ll be interesting to see if they try to get more power out of his 6’3, 205-pound frame. This could include altering mechanics, having him beef up, having him use his legs in his swing more, or some combination of the three.
- Do they keep him at first base? White is a perfectly fine hitter, but whether or not he’ll manage to hit enough at a position where virtually your only job is to hit well is a little cloudy. If the bat isn’t stellar, they may opt to move him to a corner outfield position where he can use his plus athleticism to generate value in other ways. He doesn’t need to hit a ton of dingers to have value as a first baseman, but the bat would need to be very, very good. It’s never a great bet with prospects, but White’s athleticism gives him a stellar fallback plan.
As it stands, I expect them to give him a chance to stick as a first baseman moving forward, with the hopes that he’ll develop into a high-average hitter with the ability to stock up on doubles and ~15-20 home runs. I like the bat just fine for the moment. The swing is quick and smooth and the mechanics don’t need any kind of major overhaul to be successful. He’s improved on his K/BB rates drastically over his three years at Kentucky and has mostly silenced swing-and-miss concerns. The frame is large and he could naturally add power as he gets older and adapts to a professional baseball workout regimen. I worry whether he’ll walk enough to be a high-OBP player, but it’s not a damning concern.
White is about as much of a magician as a first baseman can be. There is comfort in knowing all you have to do, as an infielder, is put the ball within a ten foot radius of first base and your first baseman will manage to come down with it. I mean:
Dan Vogelbach and Co. could spend years working on their defensive abilities at first base. They could travel to a camp. They could travel to the Himalayas. They could travel to the moon. They will never be as good as Evan White is at first base. The footwork is phenomenal. The instincts are off the charts. The plus athleticism gives him such an advantage that even when he does have a misstep, he can usually catch up. If the bat keeps him at first base, he will win many Gold Gloves–I am sure of this statement. There are times where I wonder how hilariously wonderful it would be if a freakishly athletic player got to play first base. I’m not saying “wow, that guy moves really well for a giant first baseman” kind of freakishly athletic; I’m talking legitimate, 60-speed, quick twitch freaks of nature manning the lukewarm corner. Evan White is just that.
Ceiling, Floors, and Top Prospect Placement
During the last Lookout Landing podcast, John Trupin threw out a Brandon Belt comparison for White, and I think I love that as a comp for what you ultimately hope and dream for White. The biggest road block for that comp, for me, is that Belt was praised for his plate approach and ability to draw a walk coming out of college. Something in Evan White’s game would need to drastically change for him to be as much of an OBP machine as Belt was coming up through the system. At the moment, a lot of what White does revolves around spraying line drives all over the field, and that gets more difficult as you move up through the system. That being said, I think that’s the ideal situation for White: high-average, high-OBP first baseman with plus defense and athleticism.
In terms of a floor, things are a bit cloudy with White because he strays so far from the first baseman archetype. White switching to the outfield to potentially add value is not the same as D.J. Peterson switching to the outfield to potentially add value. If the bat totally collapses, he probably drops out of the picture over time, but because the belief is out there that he could make it as an outfielder, the floor isn’t very cut and dry.
And finally, I suppose I’ll address where he settles on the Mariners top prospect list. Where he slots in really comes down to how you feel about Tyler O’Neill, who has hit a bit of a wall at Triple-A in 2017. White is either at No. 2 or No. 3; No. 4 at the absolute worst. It’s difficult for me to shoot him up over O’Neill when he hasn’t played a single game of pro ball yet, but it’s close.