What kind of player is the most fun to watch? An ace taking the mound is always a treat, with the promise of a dominant performance to come. What about position players? Incredible speed is one way to please the crowd, beating out defenders for an infield single or swiping a base with as much ease as an award winning cook might make a PB&J. Fielding an impossible play is another way to steal the hearts of fans, whether it’s an outfielder running a mile to snag a fly that was a double by right, or a middle infielder turning a double play that seems to defy physics.
Usually, though, the biggest crowd-pleaser is a hulking slugger who can crush a ball into the stands just as easily as swat a line-drive RBI double. Evan White, a first baseman out of the University of Kentucky, may not be any of these things, but he does combine a little bit of each into a very interesting and enigmatic player, one that should be selected towards the end of the first round in this year’s MLB draft.
While White’s skill set is almost unheard of among first baseman, it is not a bad one. Unlike many of the Eric Hosmers (yup, we said it) and Edwin Encarnacions of the world, White is far from a hamfisted liability on defense. He is, in fact, one of the best defenders at the top of this year’s class. His double-plus defense at the corner leads some to believe that, while he would flourish on defense at first base, he could also be moved elsewhere. A transition to a more valuable defensive position would be a move that could raise his overall value to an organization.
He has the potential to move to several different positions, but a team will likely give him an opportunity in center field. That is not what one would expect, considering the well-deserved reputation corner infielders have for being some of the most nonathletic players on the diamond. White, though, is not only a double-plus defender, but a plus runner as well. That ability will serve him well on the bases, where he runs much better than your average bear (or first baseman). And, if he’s moved to center, it will also help him track down balls in the spacious area a center fielder is responsible for defending.
If center field doesn’t work out, he also has sufficient arm strength to handle a corner outfield spot. In fact, that is where White played during his time with Team USA. He is open to moving wherever a team needs him. There is also the option of leaving him at first and relying on his future Gold Glove potential there.
White also provides a decent bat. In his three years with the University of Kentucky, he has hit .359/.414/.528 and has only gotten better every year. This ability to make consistent, good contact is one that teams covet in college hitters, and his incredible 2017 to date is a large part of what has fueled his rise to the top of draft boards. So far this season, he has hit .391/.467/.679, translating to an OPS of 1.146 and an ISO of .288. He has also hit more home runs than in his freshman and sophomore years combined.
White is proud of his varied skill set, and he cited it as his biggest strength in an interview with MLB Daily Dish.
I feel [my biggest strength is] being able to contribute in all facets of the game. If you’re having an off day at the plate, being able to still play good defense. If you’re having a good day at the plate, you’re obviously helping out that way too. I like to be able to help out in all sorts of ways. Just being able to be consistent. ... I don’t want to be just a one-way player, I want to be able to be an all-around player who can help the team defensively, offensively and on the basepaths. It’s just something I take pride in, that my dad [and uncle and grandfather] instilled in me at a young age. It’s stuck with me throughout.
White's only major weakness is one that is seen more and more often these days: the swing-and-miss. Players who struggle with whiffs are required to have premium bats. Despite absolutely destroying the opposition in college, he may not have one. Some are deeply troubled by his strikeout rate, saying it is a major roadblock he will have to overcome. Scouts see a much more polished hitter than the box scores would indicate, though, and many cite a very advanced approach at the plate.
The concern about his strikeouts may be legitimate when looking at his first two years in college ball — his sophomore year, he struck out three times as often as he walked — but he may have turned a corner there, too. In 212 at-bats, White has truck out only 31 times and has nearly matched that number with 25 walks. Though the neon “Small Sample Size” sign is flashing very brightly here, teams may be able to develop a complete hitter out of the Kentucky first baseman.
Although White came into the season looking like a second-rounder, he has boosted his stock enough that I would be shocked if he fell past the first set of competitive balance picks. He has the glove and speed to provide a team with a very high-floored prospect, and could easily see a future as a big-league bench bat who can be used all around the diamond. His ultimate ceiling, though, is one of a regular who can hit for a high average with 20 homer/20 steal potential and can stay on the field for a long, long time.