Image credit: (Photo by Brady Vernon/Cronkite News)
PEORIA, Ariz. — Evan White was slotted into the third spot in the lineup for the Modesto Nuts, the Seattle Mariners’ Class A Advanced Affiliate, for their Aug. 7, 2018 game against the Stockton Ports. The former first-round pick’s spot wasn’t abnormal, but his individual results were.
White blasted a home run that day in Modesto, Calif. He did it again the next day. For the rest of August and September, White totaled five home runs, 11 doubles, three triples and finished with a .689 slugging percentage.
It was the result of hard work for the Mariners’ first base prospect. Coming out of the University of Kentucky in 2017, White, 23, was known for his stellar defensive work. He also ran the bases well and hit for average, but he was lacking big league power. That all began to change in Modesto.
“It started in August of 2018. … To that point Evan had a super flat swing. He was always a good hitter, good hitter in high school, good hitter in college and a good hitter in pro ball. That never changed,” Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said. “Working with his hitting coaches in Modesto, I think it was Joe Thurston at the time, he worked really hard on creating elevation, lift in his swing.
“And if you go back and look from that point forward from August, 2018, to today, I think he’s carrying well north of a .500 slugging percentage. And if that’s indicative of what his power looks like, whether it manifests itself in home runs or slugging percentage is irrelevant to us. He hits the ball really hard and if we can get him to hit the ball really hard in the air, then we have a chance to tap into something special. The rest of his skills are off the charts.”
The process was far from easy for White, but he’s glad he went through it. The Mariners signed him to a six-year, $24 million contract in November.
“It’s been a challenging experience, but it’s been great at the same time,” White said. “I’m really trying to have a learning approach to it, just trying to learn as much as possible and continue to grow. Obviously, as a baseball player you try to be the best version of yourself. I felt like I had to make a change and it helped out a lot.”
Adjusting his swing was only part of the equation to White’s offensive makeover. He added weight to help power the new stroke.
“Evan looks great. He’s probably put on 10-12 pounds over where he was last year,” manager Scott Servais said. “I’m really excited, I know we stepped out and made a commitment to him this offseason with the contract, but the timing is right for him and where we’re at. He’s never played a day in the big leagues, I get that.
“But he’s a plus-plus defender, really good around the bag and can do everything defensively. The swing with the added strength and changes he’s made in his swing path over the last couple years has helped him get the ball in the air more consistently. Sky’s the limit, I’m super excited about having him out there.”
White’s power has been the biggest focal point for the Mariners, but that’s because they have no worries about the rest of his skillset. Servais said he compares White’s defensive skills to those of former major leaguer and six-time Gold Glove winner J.T. Snow.
Why did White focus on defense over the course of his career?
“I’ve just enjoyed it. Time to go outside and spend time with my parents, go take ground balls with my brother and cousins,” White said. “My entire family talked about being an all-around baseball player, and I think that’s where it all started.”
Young players today don’t tend to focus on defense, especially not at first base. White was different, though, as he was motivated by himself and his family from the beginning of his baseball career.
His value isn’t all talk, either. Dipoto is very happy to soon see the 6-foot-3, 205-pound first baseman in Seattle.
“It’s a huge value. I’m looking back through the years at the best guys that I’ve ever seen play first base, Evan’s skills fit in that category,” Dipoto said. “Last year for the first half of the year, our infield defense was roughly the worst in history, we were really rough defensively. When you add Evan White, J.P. Crawford and you get Kyle Seager back for a full year, the confidence that gives your pitchers, you can’t put a number on it.”