Every Father’s Day, Evan White and his entire family would file into Great American Ballpark, nestled along the Ohio River in Cincinnati, and take in a Reds game. It was a tradition White relished more than any other.
His uncle, Brooks White, and his grandfather both once played in the Reds organization. His father, Joe, played baseball—as well as basketball and golf—in college, and there are countless home videos of a young Evan playing catch with him. As such, Father’s Day at the ballpark always felt natural.
“I’m all Cincinnati everything,” said White, who grew up in Gahanna, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus. “Been through a lot of struggles down there, but I’m a loyal fan.”
At the ballpark, White would pay particularly close attention to Reds first baseman Joey Votto. He admired the way Votto, a career .313/.425/.536 hitter, played the cat-and-mouse game at the plate—the way he’d choke up on his bat and widen his base with two strikes. White, now a first baseman himself at Kentucky, wears the No. 19 in part as an ode to Votto.
“I like the way he plays the game,” White said. “You can tell he makes adjustments at the plate all the time, and he’s a very good defensive player, as well. And it’s cool—you can see him go through his mental changes at the plate sometimes, and it’s something that I admire.”
Watch White scoop throw after throw at first, watch him antagonize opposing pitchers—he hit .376/.419/.535 in 2016—and it’s clear just how much Votto has rubbed off on him. Now a junior, White has established himself as one of the premier first basemen in the country, winning a gold glove in 2016, playing for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team over the summer and ranking No. 33 overall on the preseason College Top 100 draft prospects.
Still, while White might try to emulate Votto, his overall tool package defies easy comparison. White is the rare first baseman who could be the most athletic player on his team. In fact, he could be the most athletic player on several teams.
“When you run through the five tools, the run tool is there. He’s an above-average runner,” said first-year Kentucky head coach Nick Mingione. “The hit tool, I mean, the guy hit .370 last year as a sophomore. The fielding tool, the guy’s a gold glove. The power tool, the guy’s got power, and I think he’s actually just now coming into his power. And then you go to arm strength, and I’ll tell you right now, if you put that guy on the mound, I bet he could throw 90 mph.
“So when you can go run, throw, field, hit, power—the guy is literally a five-tool player, which is really weird because he’s playing first base. Most guys who have five tools are playing in the outfield or something like that, but he’s got a gold glove to prove how valuable he is at that position.”
Some scouts view White, who throws lefthanded and bats righthanded, as an outfielder at the next level. He played some outfield over the summer, and he said he’s content to play wherever his team needs him most. But White clearly has a first baseman’s heart.
Many players try to resist the move to first base, instead hoping to remain on an outfield corner or third base. White is just the opposite.
“It’s just something I’ve always played,” White said. “Growing up, I was always one of those guys who could catch. It’s something I’ve done for a really long time, and I’m pretty good at saving some outs over there. I feel like that’s kind of kept me over there.
“It’s something I take pride in and something I enjoy, working on picks, fielding ground balls. I love doing that. I could do that for days.”
Mingione, who watched White from the opposing dugout the last two seasons while he was an assistant coach at Mississippi State, has quickly seen just how important White is to the dynamic of Kentucky’s team. He anchors the infield, both with his veteran leadership and with his dexterity around the bag.
“That’s the biggest thing—if you ask any one of our infielders, there’s the greatest comfort. You throw it any where in the zone, and the guy’s gonna catch it,” Mingione said after the second game of Kentucky’s season at North Carolina. “I mean, he picked three balls in the dirt last night. That was just one game. He did that in one game. Over 56 games, over the course of the year, think about how many of those he’ll have.”
Of course, White, who battled some minor hip flexor soreness at the beginning of the season, has some questions about his game as well, namely whether he’ll develop enough pop to thrive in a corner. He hit just five home runs last season, not the kind of power traditionally expected from a first baseman or corner outfielder.
But as the industry trends more toward valuing eclectic skill sets over sheer power, White’s unique profile will likely draw plenty of attention come draft time.
“I can’t tell you the last time I’ve known a first baseman, even in the big leagues, that can run a 4.0 (seconds) home to first base. I don’t know of one,” Mingione said. “Did Darin Erstad? I think when Erstad maybe played first base . . . but (White) can run a 4.0 to first base, and I bet he could run a 3.9 if you asked him to beat out a ball. So that unique combination—I have no idea.
“I just know he can really defend. He’s as good as it gets from that standpoint.”