Evan White breaks the mold for M's at 1B

GrandSalami.net welcomes new contributor Mark Nash to the fold. Mark's initial article profiles new Mariner first baseman Evan White, who looks to grace the diamond at the Ballpark by Elliott Bay for many years to come, assuming we ever start playing baseball again.

When Seattle General Manager Jerry Dipoto announced his “step back” plan after the 2018 season, the focus for 2019 immediately shifted to the farm system. Mariner fans quickly learned about young stars like Jared Kelenic, Julio Rodríguez, and Justin Dunn. One young player who went under the radar was first baseman Evan White. All this changed when White was signed to a six-year major league contract last November.

Multi-year contracts signed w/less than 1 season (183 days) of MLB service

Player (MLB days) Team Signed Duration
Luis Robert (0) White 
Sox
1/2020 6 years, $50M + 2 option yrs
Evan White (0) Mariners 11/2019 6 years, $24M + 3 option yrs
Eloy Jiménez (0) White Sox 3/2019 6 years, $43M + 2 option yrs
Scott Kingery (0) Phillies 3/2018 6 years, $24M + 3 option yrs
Jon Singleton (0) Astros 6/2014 5 years, $10M
Matt Moore (17) Rays 12/2011 5 years, $14M
Evan Longoria (24) Rays 4/2008 6 years, $17.5M
Salvador Pérez (50) Royals 2/2012 5 years, $7M
Brandon Lowe (58) Rays 3/2019 6 years, $24M
Tim Anderson (115) White Sox 3/2017 6 years, $25M
Paul DeJong (124) Cardinals 3/2018 6 years, $26M
Chris Archer (156) Rays 4/2014 6 yeas, $25.5M
Ronald Acuña Jr. (165) Braves 4/2019 8 years, $90M + 2 option yrs
w/$10M buyout

Offering a multi-year deal to a rookie—especially one who hasn't even played above Double-A, save for a few fill-in games (18 ABs) at Triple-A in 2018—is unusual, to say the least. White is one of only five players to sign such a deal before making his debut in the big leagues, contracts designed to buy out at least some of a player's arbitration years and potentially a year or two of free agent eligibility. White's deal guarantees him $24 million and has an additional three option years that, if exercised, would bring the total to nine years and $55.5 million. That's quite the commitment for a guy with all of 230 at-bats in the minors and none in the Majors; clearly, the Mariners believe White will be so good that making the 23-year-old a rich man immediately is more cost-effective than paying him the minimum (or close to it) for three years and risking huge awards in arbitration and a large free-agent price. “In theory, it seems like a lot of money,’’ Dipoto said. “It’s way more money than most people will ever make in their lives. But for us, it seems like a reasonable bet to place in a player that we believe in.”

The 17th overall pick in the 2017 MLB draft out of the University of Kentucky, White shot up the minor league ladder, slashing .296/.361/.471 over three seasons in the Mariners’ system. A multi-faceted player, White hit 18 home runs, good for third in the Texas League, as well as 13 doubles and two triples last season for Double-A Arkansas. Coming out of college and throughout the minor leagues, White was best known for his superb defense at first base—a welcome change for the Mariners after many seasons of having big lumbering power hitters play first base. He has also shown a very good eye at the plate and earns his share of walks. As Seattle manager Scott Servais put it, "Defensively, he’s really gifted. ... How many home runs he’ll hit, I have no idea. But as long as he continues to have good swing decisions, he’ll be just fine.’’

Born in Columbus, Ohio, White played high school ball at Lincoln High School outside of Columbus where he was the state player of the year. He went on to play at the University of Kentucky, where he hit .356 over three seasons and was on the All-SEC Freshman Team, All-SEC Defensive Team, and played on the USA Baseball College National Team in the summer of 2016. As a junior in 2017, White was named a second-team NCAA All-American after a season when he hit for a .373 average with 24 doubles and 10 home runs. White is also well regarded for his personality and is known as a hard worker. “Evan White stands out in so many ways,” Dipoto said in a press conference. “We love the player and we love the person. The combination made it very easy to want to sign him for the better part of the next decade.”

#12 • Evan White

Position First base
Bats Right
Throws Left
DOB April 26, 1996
2019 team Arkansas Travelers (AA)
2019 batting    .293/.350/.488, 18 HR, 55 RBI

Now the question becomes: Will White be an upgrade over the Mariners’ past first basemen? During the Jerry Dipoto era, the M’s have nearly exclusively used power hitters who can’t play much defense at the position. This was exemplified in the first half of the 2019 season, when the M’s used three players at first base whose best position was DH: Jay Bruce, Edwin Encarnacion, and Daniel Vogelbach. This after first base was manned by the likes of Adam Lind, Dae-ho Lee, Yonder Alonso, and Ryon Healy in prior Dipoto-led years. The plan for 2020 is that White will be the primary first baseman, with Vogelbach at DH. 

There have been some questions regarding whether or not White was rushed to the Majors a la Mike Zunino, a hasty decision that probably hurt both Zunino and the team. While this comparison is fair, there are some marked differences in the rise of both players through the minor leagues. Zunino was drafted in the June 2012 draft and made his debut one year later in June 2013. By the time White sees the big-league field, it will have been three years since he was drafted, not to mention the fact that White is coming into the Majors under different circumstances than did Zunino. Zunino and White were both immediately named starters at their respective positions; however, White is in a much better situation. White has a clear backup in Austin Nola, who can push White to earn his starting time. Additionally, the Mariners are not expected to compete this season, unlike the 2013 and 2014 Mariners who were actively trying to win.  

While time will tell what will come of Evan White’s debut season in the Majors, all signs point to it being a positive one.

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