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40 in 25: Evan White

Examining the first baseman’s role with the team as he enters the injury recovery process once again.

Seattle Mariners v Baltimore Orioles - Game 1 Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

We all have that one book we started reading, but life just got so busy that it was put aside and never finished. Other books came along that captured our interest instead, but this book still sits at home on a shelf that we pass by everyday. We glance at it every once in a while and think maybe I should finish it, but opt to keep walking. We aren’t sure about the ending, although we are very intrigued by the plot at the beginning. Eventually, we decide to pick it up from where we left off, but soon realize it’s still unclear how this story will end.

Evan White’s story is still unfinished. In fact, it has barely been started. White was perhaps one of the biggest question marks on the Mariners’ roster coming into this season. After season-ending hip surgery in 2021 and a long road to recovery, he entered this year’s Spring Training at full health. Unfortunately, after playing in just two games, he received an MRI that revealed a sports hernia in the same hip, requiring surgery and yet another delay to his return to the field. Entering 2022, it’s unclear how long he’ll be out for, what his recovery will look like, whether he is destined for the dreaded “injury-prone” label for good, and where (or if) he’ll fit on the roster with the team this season.

White came to the Mariners as the 17th overall selection in the 2017 MLB draft out of the University of Kentucky. After working his way up through the Modesto Nuts, Everett AquaSox, and Tacoma Rainiers’ organizations, he signed a six-year major league contract before he even played a single major league game. Making his debut the following season in 2020, White’s impressive defensive feats earned him his first Gold Glove Award, becoming the first rookie first baseman in either league to win a Gold Glove since the award was established in 1957. The following season, he was off to another promising start at first base, but strained his hip making a play on the bag in May of 2021. He started on the 10-day IL but was later transferred to the 60-day IL. Opting to have season-ending hip surgery, he has been recovering since.

Defensively, Evan White has been unstoppable. Known as “White Claw” here at LL, his ability to scoop up any ball that comes his way made for an exciting rookie season.

Within his first few games in the big leagues, his elite defense was turning heads and quickly caught the attention of manager Scott Servias. “...I can’t imagine anybody’s had a bigger impact for their team defensively in the infield than Evan White’s had for our team,” Servais said to the media following White’s first six games. The promising impression he made on the team during his first season provided lots of hope about his future potential.

At the plate, however, he’s had his share of struggles. During his Gold Glove season in 2020, he ended the season with a .176 batting average and .252 OBP, both some of the lowest numbers in all of baseball that season.

Per Fangraphs

Combined with a well-below-average wRC+ of 66 and a whopping 41.6% strikeout rate, his worrisome numbers were even visibly frustrating for White down the stretch. He had a hard time locating pitches, controlling the zone, and coming back from behind in the count. Before his injury in 2021, he exited with a 24 wRC+ and .197 wOBA in 104 at-bats across just 30 games with the team.

We did get glimpses of what White is capable of behind the plate before his injury, because when he was on, he was on. His average exit velo in 2020 was in the 87th percentile while his HardHit % and Barrel % were in the 95th and 90th percentiles, respectively. His first big league home run was a monster 418 ft shot to left-center field.

Entering this year’s Spring Training, White was fully recovered and had been taking alternating reps at first base with Ty France. However, in his second start, he tweaked his hip and left to get an MRI that showed a sports hernia. White opted for surgery once again, delaying his return to the team. He has already had the surgery, but does not yet have a scheduled return. His role on the team this season was already in question as Seattle Sports’ Shannon Drayer reported earlier last month that through the duration of Spring Training, White had been taking reps on field two and speculated that his role with the team would likely be as depth kept in Triple-A Tacoma.

I know where I want this story to end, and I’m still holding out a glimmer of hope. Evan White is an accomplished player who has worked his way up through the Mariners’ organization. The team is committed to his development, as they have invested in him for a number of years. At the moment he’s hurt, and in any event, chasing Ty France for a position at first base. If he can return to full health and significantly improve his bat, perhaps he can contribute later in the season, either as a starting first baseman or sharing a platoon with France.

The odds are against Evan White this year. But that’s what good stories do. They thrust their main characters into the crucible to see what might transform, and we’ll just have to keep reading to see how Evan White emerges on the other side.