One of our off-season plans has been to do an overview of some of the Mariners’ upper-level prospects and analyze how close each is to the majors. While we had planned to start with one of the prospects who got a cup of coffee with the Mariners this year, the team forced our hand somewhat, both with respect to timeline and prospect order, with the news of Evan White’s contract extension. (For more of a breakdown on the contract, check back later today for Grant’s analysis.)
However, even a shiny new contract is no guarantee White will break camp with the big-league club. With the front office not planning to contend in 2020 and Austin Nola performing fine-to-well at the historically cursed position of 1B in just over 250 PAs last season, the Mariners can afford to slow-play White into his major league career. On the other hand, the contract White signed negates any need for possible service time shenanigans, so the team has no incentive to hold him in the minors if they feel White is ready for major-league action.
This leads to the central question: when will Evan White make his major-league debut? That’s a decision that rests solely in the hands of the Mariners front office, but having tracked White’s progress closely here on the site since he was drafted in 2017, we feel confident in projecting that it will be sooner rather than later in 2020, if he doesn’t break camp with the team out of Spring Training.
White may have already made his MLB debut last season if not for a confluence of factors: White, already working on a shorter off-season thanks to a 2018 AFL appearance and extensive run with the big-league club at Spring Training after they pulled up stakes for Japan, played a full season with the Travelers, including a deep playoff run and trips to the Futures Game and the Texas League All-Star Game. And while this might not be a balance-tipping factor, he also just bought a house near the Mariners’ complex in Arizona, and is getting married this off-season (click to contribute to one of two jersey frame cases the couple is registered for, leading me to ponder which two jerseys White has deemed worthy of framing), so it was kind of a big year for him already.
White also dealt with some minor injuries this season, starting with a nagging hip flexor strain that kept him out for a couple weeks at the beginning of the season (he also missed some AFL games with this issue), and then again in late July with an unspecified injury. If there’s anything that could hamper White’s progress, it would be his health. White missed time in his draft year at Kentucky with a hamstring/quad issue that followed him to pro ball, and in 2018 the start to his High-A season was delayed with a groin injury. Of note, White has spent this off-season doing strength training and is now tipping the scales at 220, compared to the 205 he is listed at from his signing date. Hopefully some more meat on his long frame—listed at 6’3” with 90% of that being his legs—will cause an uptick in durability.
Beyond the durability issue, the knock on White has been his power, or lack thereof. John has extensively chronicled the stance and swing changes that have transformed White from a glove-first collegian to a legitimate power threat who posted the best isolated power numbers of his career this season despite playing in the howling winds of offense-suppressing Dickey-Stephens Park against some tough Texas League pitching.
To be fair, 13 of White’s 18 home runs did come on the road, so he didn’t entirely vanquish the hobgoblin of righty-power-eating DSP (although he did account, by himself, for 15% of all the dingers hit at DSP this season), but 18 was still enough for White to finish third in the Texas League in home runs, alongside prospects more well-known for their power like the Cardinals’ Dylan Carlson (who had the advantage of playing his home games in one of the hitter-friendliest parks in the league). And while his increased power did come with a slight uptick in strikeouts (up to 23% from 19% in High-A), White continued to show a plus hit tool, finishing sixth in the league in average, right behind teammate and contact monster Donnie Walton. White’s spray chart in Double-A is a touch more pull-heavy than his career spray chart, but still shows an encouraging ability not just to hit the ball to all fields, but to do so with power:
We’ve heard murmurings that White hits the ball as hard as anyone in Seattle’s system, but with most of that information proprietary, we will have to wait for White’s big-league debut to get regular exit velocities on his hits. He did have the hardest-hit ball this past year at the Futures Game, at 112.2 mph off top prospect Mackenzie Gore, and occasionally numbers have trickled out of Arkansas in about that range. Otherwise, we’ve had to rely on the good ol’ eye test, specifically where the good ol’ eye sees a ball rocket so hard off a bat it flees to the field tarp for cover and refuses to come out ever again:
Good news in Arkansas, as Evan White continues to rebound from a mini-slump with this authoritatively-struck double that would have scored a run if it didn't get hit so hard it wedged itself into the field tarp. pic.twitter.com/RmtEHuhucF— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) August 27, 2019
Between the club wanting to keep the Travelers as a cohesive unit for the playoffs and the Triple-A ball rendering judgements on player readiness next-to-useless, White didn’t set foot in Triple-A this year, but not because he wasn’t ready for the level. If the Mariners want to start him in Triple-A in 2020 to see some veteran pitching before he’s facing it regularly, they could, but White is a disciplined, polished hitter who hasn’t struggled extensively with off-speed pitches. In fact, this season he owned 35-year-old knuckleballer J.D. Martin, pitching in the Dodgers system for some reason.
The Mariners wanted White to tap into his power, and he did. He has nothing left on his to-do list for the minors. He’s hit well at every stop, with solid plate discipline. Clearly he has nothing to prove defensively, either, as his Gold Glove-level defense has been much remarked upon, so much so that we...okay fine, here are some pictures of Evan White doing fancy glove things.
Evan White proved again today that he can really pick it at first. Did we mention the @Mariners' No. 2 prospect made our 2018 All-Defense team in January? https://t.co/JmacBajuew pic.twitter.com/D9PGjkuNEK— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) February 25, 2018
Travs fall behind 3-0 but are bailed out by this inning-ending double play from the arm of Luis Liberato and the stretch by Evan White pic.twitter.com/NzE01Uf5rR— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) August 25, 2019
This one is from before Modesto got good cameras, but it is my favorite one so muddle through the blur with me:
And a bonus one from college!
Look at the athleticism here from Evan White. Doesn't have prototypical first baseman tools. A true athlete. #mlbdraft pic.twitter.com/GgFZiHznI0— Michael Lananna (@mlananna) May 19, 2017
Offensively and defensively, Evan White is MLB-ready. He’s answered the questions he needed to answer about his power tool, and the defense was never in question. Something that lingers, however, is the question around his health. With a history of lower-body injuries dating back to college, it’s disconcerting to see White miss time in his pro career with those same issues, although the Mariners have erred on the side of caution where top prospects are concerned this past season. Still, when trying to forecast if you will be able to see White on Opening Day at T-Mobile, pay close attention to the injury reports coming out of Spring Training...and hope for no White-outs. (Look, I already got talked out of calling this article “The White Stuff,” let me have this one.)