EVERETT — If you blinked you might have missed him.
Evan White, the first round pick of the Seattle Mariners in last month’s Major League Baseball draft, has had scant opportunities to make a local impression, though it’s no fault of his own. Due to the lateness of this year’s MLB draft, the AquaSox have been in town for only three games since White signed.
He’s also dealing with quad tightness, so his Everett Memorial Stadium debut consisted of two hitless at-bats as the designated hitter in a 7-5 AquaSox win on Wednesday.
Don’t let any of that deter you. White legged out an infield single for his first professional hit Thursday in Hillsboro, Oregon, and the Frogs return home for a seven-game homestand Tuesday.
White doesn’t come with as much fanfare as last year’s first-round pick Kyle Lewis, the 2016 Golden Spikes Award winner who possesses middle-of-the-order power potential and the athleticism to potentially play centerfield — though last season’s ACL tear may limit that.
Instead White, a left-handed thrower who hits from the right side, is a two-time winner of the Collegiate Rawlings Gold Glove Award for his defensive prowess who also has the athleticism and the tools to play center in the majors if need be.
“The running was good, the hitting was good, but his defense at first base is exceptional,” says Gary Henderson, the former University of Kentucky head coach who recruited and coached White for two years before becoming the pitching coach at Mississippi State.
“Extraordinarily good,” Henderson adds. “The type of good that you thought he was going to be able to play first base in the major leagues.”
White also hit .373/.453/.637 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) with 10 home runs and a 1.090 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) as a junior this season, but he is generally perceived as a line drive hitter with 24 doubles among his 35 extra-base hits.
In the parlance of Mariners fans, if Lewis is Adam Jones, then White is John Olerud.
As per first-round custom, White visited Safeco Field for the first time on June 23 to take batting practice with the team and meet with the media in his first official press conference.
During batting practice, he sidled up to Mariners outfielder Guillermo Heredia, another member of the rare fraternity of players who throw left and hit right. The duo “had a moment,” discussing their shared similarities, all under the watchful eyes of White’s phone-video wielding parents, Joe and Erin.
Erin White believes her eldest child is a natural lefty that became a right-handed hitter through happenstance as a toddler.
“His grandfather had cut down a regular right-handed golf club for his older cousin,” she says. “When Evan got a hold of it he had to swing right-handed. And then that’s how he started swinging the bat right-handed as well.”
A native of Gahanna, Ohio, a Columbus suburb, White was born into a family with a grandfather and uncle who played in the Cincinnati Reds organization.
White grew up a Reds fan and was 3 when the Reds acquired erstwhile and eternal Mariner Ken Griffey Jr.
“He was someone I really looked up to,” White says. “When we were playing Wiffle Ball in the front yard, I hit lefty and tried to do his little stance. He’s definitely a guy I really looked up to.”
Yet it wasn’t enough to induce White to move to the left side permanently.
“My dad tried to get me into switch hitting here or there,” White says. “(He) couldn’t convince me to hit left.”
Even today White remains an ambidextrous enigma. He throws and writes left-handed, yet kicks right-footed, and hits, shoots and dunks (he has the hops) right-handed.
Bright future ahead
Joe and Erin White both played basketball at Mount Vernon Nazarene University, an NAIA school in Mount Vernon, Ohio.
The couple disagrees about who was the better player. They each defer to the other, leaving Evan to render the verdict.
“My (maternal) grandma brags about how it’s my mom is where I get everything from,” says White, who shares the devout Christian faith of his parents. “We just joke around and stuff about that. But (I) definitely (got) the work ethic and athleticism.”
For what it’s worth, Erin (Sharrock) White was inducted into the MVNU Wall of Fame in 2000. Joe is still awaiting that call so it seems Grandma Sharrock is correct.
Evan’s abilities as a defensive first baseman set him apart so much that Henderson already envisioned a future MLB first baseman when recruiting White in high school.
“It was a no-brainer,” Henderson says. “You walk into the ballpark and you watch this guy play first base at a different level. Very easy to distinguish that at an early age.”
White doesn’t possess the prototypical power of a first baseman. He even told Mariners director of scouting Scott Hunter such when Hunter visited Lexington this spring. White then went out and hit a long home run in his first at-bat in front of Hunter.
“He progressively got better every year (at UK),” Hunter says of the 6-foot-3, 205-pound White. “If he can grow another 15-20 pounds we felt like it was an opportunity for us to get a player who not only has “now” ability, “now” tools and “now” athleticism, but really dream a little about what he can do two or three years from now.”
Yet White’s speed allowed the Mariners to picture an All-American first baseman as a major league center fielder, if the organization had such a need.
“Whatever the ball club needs is what I’m willing to do,” White says. “But right now it’s going to be at first base.”
‘He’s still just Evan to us’
Despite being born and bred in the shadow of Ohio State University, White headed south. The Kentucky Wildcats were among his early suitors, and the siren’s song of competing in the Southeastern Conference was too much to resist.
White played in only one NCAA tournament, that coming as a junior this spring when the Wildcats hosted and won their regional to advance to the super regionals where they fell to host Louisville. Yet even in the SEC, the popularity of baseball pales in comparison to football and basketball, where players are household names amid rampant media coverage.
“There has been a lot going on, a lot of interviews,” White said at his Safeco Field press conference. “I’m not used to that. I had some experience in college, but it’s been good.”
White is unnecessarily self-deprecating. He commands the interview room with a poise belying his lack of experience. Indeed, he’s been well-groomed for this moment.
“He was just a really impressive person (and) the same thing with his mom and dad,” Henderson says. “They were the type of people that seemed to have their priorities in order and the type of family that you want to be in your program.”
White’s quad tightness kept him out of Everett’s series opener last Monday, so his parents weren’t able to witness his home debut. But there figure to be more opportunities both for the Whites, and fans of the AquaSox and Mariners to see their most recent first-rounder.
“He’s still just Evan to us,” Erin says. “We love him for who he is, not necessarily for what he does. We’re just incredibly proud of him as a baseball player and even more of the young man he’s developed into. It’s been really neat to see over these few years.”
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