Evan White was playing in his first full professional season when I interviewed him 24 months ago. I went on to write that White “not only bats right and throws left, he’s a first baseman whose athleticism and offensive skill set are more akin to that of a center fielder.” My esteemed colleague Eric Longenhagen had recently called the University of Kentucky product “perhaps the 2017 draft’s most unique player.”
Two years later, White is No. 4 on our Mariners Top Prospects list, and No. 64 on our 2020 Top 100 Prospects list. Moreover, he’s projected to begin the season — assuming there is a season — in Seattle’s starting lineup. If so, he’ll have leapfrogged Triple-A. White spent last year at Double-A Arkansas where he slashed .293/.350/.488, with 18 home runs in 400 plate appearances.
The introduction to the 2018 interview also included the line, “Last June’s 17th overall pick doesn’t project to hit for much power.” As evidenced by the aforementioned output, that’s now looking to be untrue. White’s swing is proving to be more lethal than expected — this despite his not having retooled it toward that end.
“I’m just continuing to learn, continuing to grow,” White told me prior to spring training’s being shut down. “My approach is the same — it’s to stay middle of the field — but my timing is more consistent. If I’m late, I’ve got to rush, and when I’m rushing I’m not making as good decisions because I’m not seeing the ball as well.”
Seeing the ball has never been much of an issue. Along with possessing solid bat-to-ball skills, the Columbus, Ohio native strives to be a selective hitter. That’s not by chance. As noted in the earlier piece, White has a strong appreciation for what Joey Votto brings to the table in Cincinnati.
A less-accomplished Seattle slugger has been a more hands-on influence for the youngster. White likes to pick the brains of veteran teammates, and Dan Vogelbach is among those he most leaned on this spring. Their conversations focused more on the mental side of hitting, although their differences did impose some limitations.
“I’m right and he’s left, so I don’t talk to him about the exact approach against certain guys,” White said of Vogelbach. “They’re going to pitch him differently than they’re going to pitch me. But I might look at video of how guys are attacking Kyle Lewis. We’re similar hitters, so I’ll see how they’re approaching him.”
Lewis — No. 8 on our Mariners prospects list — has more raw power and swing-and-miss than White, but they indeed have similarities. Hard contact is one of them. Jerry Dipoto told me at November’s GM Meetings that Lewis and White, in that order, had the highest exit velocities among Seattle farmhands last year. I asked White about that particular attribute.
“I mean, it’s something you always want,” he responded. “Every time you go up there, you want to get your best swing off and hit the ball as hard as you possibly can. That’s another thing I think I’ve gotten better at. Actually, it’s maybe not gotten a whole lot better. The angle of it has gotten a little better. I never really think about trying to elevate the ball more, but I have been getting in a better position to where more of those line drives will end up being doubles and homers.”
But again, that hasn’t been due to a retooling; it’s more a matter of staying in sync.
“I’ve always been able to hit a home run,” said White. “But I’d also hit a lot of low line drive singles, because my timing wasn’t as good and I’d get on top of the ball more. I’m hitting the ball equally hard now, but like I said, the angle is better. It’s mostly a matter of consistency.”
What might Mariners’ fans feel if that consistency translates to the big leagues? Let’s go with this:
A recent Anthony Castrovince article at MLB.com reminded me of something I included in this column six years ago. It was in regard to Harry Chiti, who is often cited as having been traded for himself.
According to Chiti’s son, longtime MLB coach Dom Chiti, the story isn’t technically true. His father had gone from the Mets to the Indians, only to be returned seven weeks later, but the latter deal was actually a cash transaction. Moreover, the money was then used to pay for the Chief Wahoo sign in Cleveland’s old ballpark. This was in 1952.
As Dom Chiti explained it, “My dad wasn’t so much traded for himself as he was traded for a sign.”
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Last Sunday’s column devoted 400 words to the plight of minor-league broadcasters. With no games being played due to the COVID-19 shutdown, many have been left in the lurch. Blaine McCormick, who was featured in the piece, is among those who have been furloughed. The unwelcome news came down once the prep work — this for a Richmond Flying Squirrels season now in danger of not getting off the ground — was done.
McCormick worked on player biographies and statistical information for the Squirrels’ media guide. There was also broadcast game-planning with lead play-by-play voice Trey Wilson. And then there were the promotions — a big part of every affiliate’s marketing efforts — to arrange. Andruw Jones, who played for Richmond when they were the Triple-A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves, highlighted the club’s appearance packages.
And then the work ran out. The press box at The Diamond was being remodeled, but while employees of minor-league clubs routinely wear multiple hats, this one wasn’t a fit. As McCormick put it, “They’re not going to trust a 23-year-old broadcaster to operate a drill or a saw.”
They are trusting him to call games for the San Francisco Giants’ Double-A affiliate. Eventually. To the consternation of all involved, rumors persist that a final nail will be driven into the coffin of the 2020 minor-league baseball season in the not-too-distant future. Pair this possibility with a truncated draft and inevitable contraction, and things are anything but pretty down on the farm.
Speaking of the draft and contraction, this passage from Charles Dickens’s “Great Expectations” comes to mind:
“There was a long hard time when I kept far from me the remembrance of what I had thrown away when I was quite ignorant of its worth.”
On May 26, 1959, Pittsburgh Pirates left-hander Harvey Haddix famously threw 12 spotless innings against the Milwaukee Braves before losing a perfect game — and then the contest itself — in the 13th inning. Which Milwaukee pitcher held Haddix’s Pirates scoreless and earned a complete-game win?
The answer can be found below.
The Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) elected Daniel Levitt to the organization’s Board of Directors. Vice President Leslie Heaphy and Treasurer F.X. Flinn were re-elected to their respective positions.
Mary Pratt, who pitched for the Rockford Peaches and Kenosha Comets in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, died earlier this week. Pratt was 101.
Peter Schmuck, who has covered the Orioles for The Baltimore Sun since 1990, is retiring from the beat. He penned a farewell column on Friday.
The answer to the quiz is Lou Burdette. The right-hander from Nitro, West Virginia surrendered s dozen hits, but kept the Pirates off the scoreboard.
A few paragraphs on a long-forgotten player I recently mentioned on Twitter:
In 1947, Detroit Tigers right-hander Fred Hutchinson went 18-10 with a 3.03 ERA. At the plate, he slashed .302/.339/.443 in 113 plate appearances. That line wasn’t an anomaly. As a matter of fact, those numbers weren’t even the best of his professional career. As Bill James proceeded to point out, Hutchinson not only went 26-7, 2.44 with Double-A Buffalo in 1941, he slashed .392/.434/.541 (in 162 plate appearances).
Uncle Sam entered the picture following that Brobdingnagian minor-league campaign. Hutchinson then missed four full seasons — 1942-1945 — while serving in the Navy. He returned to Detroit in 1946 and pitched for eight more years. A player-manager for the Tigers in 1952 and 1953, Hutchinson later skippered the St. Louis Cardinals, and the Cincinnati Reds.
One more thing of note: Per his SABR BioProject entry, Hutchinson once wrestled a bear.
Yesterday I ran a Twitter poll asking who was better, Tony Gwynn or Edgar Martinez? Their WAR totals — Gwynn 65.0, Martinez 65.5 — suggested a neck-and-neck race, as did their reputations as elite hitters. Franchise icons alike, one spent his entire 20-year career with the Padres, the other his entire 18-year career with the Mariners. Both are immortalized in Cooperstown.
Which had the better offensive numbers?
Gwynn won eight batting titles, recorded 3,141 hits, and had a .338 batting average.
Martinez won two batting titles, recorded 2,247 hits, and had a .312 batting average.
Martinez had 838 extra-base hits, a .418 OBP, a .405 wOBA, and a 147 wRC+.
Gwynn had 763 extra-base hits, a .388 OBP, a .370 wOBA, and a 132 w RC+.
Those are interesting numbers to compare and contrast. What did the people voting in the poll think? The answer can be found below.
John Means reportedly worked on his curveball a lot this spring. Hearing that didn’t surprise me. As last season was coming to a close, the Baltimore Orioles southpaw told me that he’d recently begun working the pitch into his repertoire.
He’d done so in bold fashion. Means unveiled his curveball — he threw 12 of them in all —against the Los Angeles Dodgers on September 11.
I asked the A.L. Rookie-of-the-Year runner-up about his willingness to try something new against an offensive juggernaut.
“Playing for the Orioles, that’s what this whole year has been about,” Means explained. “For all of us, it’s about trying to develop our weapons more. The best feedback you’re going to get is throwing against the best hitters. Right?”
I recently asked Bruce Miles if he could share any colorful anecdotes from his 22 years covering the Chicago Cubs. The semi-retired former Daily Herald scribe responded in fine fashion.
“One of my favorite teams to cover was the 2001 team,” Miles told me via direct message. “Lots of characters. One day in Pittsburgh, Matt Stairs was dressed in only a jockstrap and a toque, as they call them in his native Canada. He walks through the clubhouse and says, ‘Come on, boys. I’m going to the cage. Let’s hit.’ Stairs liked the media and liked to have fun with us. When the time came near to close the clubhouse before batting practice, he would yell, ‘Anybody not in a uniform can get the [expletive] out of here!’ We always played along as good sports.”
The poll results were heavily in favor of the former Padre. Gwynn received 82.4% of the vote. The ever-underrated Martinez garnered just 17.6%.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
MLB,com’s Mike Petriello wrote about how George Brunet — a native of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula who went on to pitch in 33 consecutive professional seasons — might be the most interesting player many people haven’t heard of.
Longtime baseball writer and broadcaster Mel Antonen recently beat liver cancer… and now he’s batting COVID-19. John Gaskins has the story at KWSN, Sioux Falls Sports Radio.
At The Tampa Bay Times, Marc Topkin checked in on Rays outfielder Yoshi Tsutsugo, who is back in Japan, awaiting the resumption of baseball in the States.
At Slate, Leander Schaerlaeckens delved into Donald Trump’s high school baseball career.
On May 6, 1972, the Milwaukee Brewers and California Angels played a nine-inning game that was completed in an hour and thirty-one minutes. Chris Zantow — the author of “Building the Brewers: Bud Selig and the Return of Major League Baseball to Milwaukee” wrote about it on his blog.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Per the Milwaukee Brewers media guide, Christian Yelich’s maternal great grandfather, Fred Gehrke, was an NFL running back and is credited with designing the Los Angeles Rams’ horn logo, as well as developing the first full face mask used on a football helmet.
From 2001 to 2004, Barry Bonds slashed .000/.414/.000 in the 181 games that he went without a hit. (Per @PassonJim)
Adam Wainwright slashed .289/.313/.406, with three home runs in 145 plate appearances, over his first three big-league seasons.
On May 9, 1986, the Philadelphia Phillies released Dave Stewart. Two weeks later, Stewart signed wth the Oakland A’s and proceeded to go 93-50 with a 3.30 ERA over the next four-plus seasons.
On May 13, 1942, Boston Braves right-hander Jim Tobin homered three times to help his own efforts in a 6-3 complete-game win over the Chicago Cubs. Tobin went deep twice against Jake Mooty and once against Hi Bithorn.
Mother Watson pitched in two games for the Cincinnati Red Stockings in 1887. A native of Middleport, Ohio, Watson died of a gunshot wound in 1898.