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40 in 40: Evan White is hip to be square

Can a healthy season bring back Evan White’s early-career promise?

Baltimore Orioles v Seattle Mariners Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Evan White. For some, the name of the Gold Glove-winning first baseman can evoke feelings of joy, of hope. For others, the name of the oft-injured, yet to prove himself as a major league hitter can evoke dread, or weariness. Whichever side of the spectrum you may fall on, I am going to ask you to let go of those feelings, to clear your mind of the Evan White you know. Because the truth is, much like the cat of Schrödinger fame, we cannot know what Evan White is until we open the box that is the 2023 season, or at the very least this year’s spring training. He may finally break out with the bat in a way that forces his way into the lineup, or his health struggles could continue and we may never know what could have been otherwise. There are signs pointing in either direction, so the best thing to do is to approach 2023 Evan White with an emotional clean slate.

Even though I’m asking you to let go of emotional doubts and hopes, it is still best to be prepared with knowledge. The most obvious force working against Evan White contributing at the major league level is his injury history. All of his injuries have been to his lower body, most notably his 2021 season being cut short with a left hip flexor strain, and the start of his 2022 being delayed by a sports hernia, both of which required surgery and long recoveries. Last season was a particularly rough road back, with two attempts to start his rehab assignment in both the middle of May and the middle of June, but both quickly ended with setbacks. Finally in early August he was able to begin a true rehab assignment, and we got an extended look at what a recovered Evan White might look like... until September 10th when he was once again placed on the injured list, ending his season.

Los Angeles Dodgers v Seattle Mariners Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

This last time he was placed on the injured list was actually a bit of a bad news, sort-of good news situation, however. Though very brief, we heard more information about the nature of that injury in the end-of-season press conference. The word then was that the injury was not new, rather a continuation of the recovery process, and that he was expected to continue baseball activities sometime in November. If more time on the mend was simply what he needed, then he will now have had a full off-season to rest and condition.

But what of those results from his time in Tacoma? This is where we get to the silver lining. Ultimately we’re still dealing with a small sample size, 19 games and 75 plate appearances since his return in August, and 28 games and 107 plate appearances for the entire year, but there were some promising numbers. In particular, we saw improvement in areas that were of concern after his brief major league appearances in 2020 and 2021. In those first 306 plate appearances he posted a 7.8% walk rate, a 37.6% strikeout rate, an ISO of only .143, and a dismal 52 wRC+. In his nineteen game stretch that begin in August those numbers were a 10.7% walk rate, a much improved 16% strikeout rate, a .394 ISO, and a 127 wRC+. Feel free to take those numbers with the largest grain of salt due to sample size, but it’s still the directional trend you want to see from a hitter that has struggled in those areas and has missed so much time. In particular, he mostly continued the trend in swing mechanics that John Trupin outlined time and again.

Hip movement can be key to swing mechanics, and it definitely is for Evan White’s approach. If his hip was still bothering him during any of those swings, it certainly didn’t show in the results. Another hopeful sign during that stint was getting to see him make some plays reminiscent of the ones that earned him a Gold Glove.

Improvements in his strikeout numbers and ability to hit for power are very welcome signs, especially so soon coming back from injury. Yet, his strikeout numbers were never particularly high in his minor league career before his MLB debut, and the question still remains if his skillset can translate and adapt at that level. That is a question far from being truly answered at just over three hundred plate appearances, and White has shown the ability to adapt and persevere. Technically he has time to figure it out, given that he will be a still somewhat baseball-young 27 for most of the upcoming season, and is under a very team-friendly contract at least through 2025, and potentially 2028 with three consecutive team options. In fact, if White remains healthy, one of the biggest questions facing him might not be whether he can perform, but rather where he will fit on the roster.

Ty France has firmly entrenched himself at first base now in his absence. Of course having a healthy White as depth for the always-a-ball-magnet and sometimes-injured France could end up being a blessing. There have also been discussions of having White play some corner outfield. The competition in left field may be intense, with Kelenic, Trammell, and Marlowe all vying for time there, but there are no certainties in any of them. Overall, between health, questions about performance, and questions about roster construction, there are just far too many variables to predict. Be prepared for all results, and expect none of them. Evan White is Schrödinger’s Baseball Player. He exists in every state and no state of existence, as a complete bust and as a future All-Star, and everything in between. Until we open the Pandora’s Box of the 2023 season, we cannot know.