The Spring Training backfields are the hidden gem of Arizona and Florida in March.
Sometimes you get a star big leaguer on an “off” day leading off every inning until he gets the 5-6 ABs he wants that day, or a stud pitcher getting extra work in. You can stumble across multiple top prospects just hitting in the cage, taking extra ground balls, or just standing around between the fields. You also get some interesting “team” affiliations, which was the case on Saturday.
I will preface this by stating the “level” of the game the player is in does not mean that is the level the player will start the season at, but it can tell you a little about what the team wants to see from them. On Saturday, during a Seattle Mariners AAA game, the starting first baseman was 2017 first round pick Evan White.
White is a surprisingly toolsy first baseman; clocking him at a 4.21 home to first means he is average to better speed for a traditional position player, but elite for a first baseman. He is fluid and has a very good glove at first and a much better arm than most others who play the position. He can hold his own as a right fielder if needed, but projects as an elite defensive first baseman.
He has good bat speed and explosive hips, which can fire a touch early at times leaving him out front of off-speed stuff, but the bat tool can play plus. He doesn’t have the current power of most first basemen, mainly a gap-to-gap doubles hitter at this time but has the frame that can hold more weight and eventually develop into 20+ HR power.
Now, back to the fact he was in an AAA game.
In 2017, his draft year, White played in only 14 games and all at the Northwest League affiliate Everett AquaSox, a Short Season Class A level club. White is a college draft pick out of Kentucky, so there was no doubt he would start 2018 with a full season club, but Class A Advanced Modesto would be an aggressive assignment even for a polished player like White.
While the “level” a player plays with in the spring is not always the level they will end up to start the year, it is usually within a single level. This means a Double-A assignment is not out of the question, although it would be incredibly aggressive to skip both full season A ball levels.
If he does start in Double-A, or even Class A Advanced, the Mariners do have thoughts of contending this year, and the weakest spot in their lineup may very well be first base.
Mike Ford has been returned to the New York Yankees after the Mariners had selected him in the Rule 5 draft, so the depth chart looks like a Ryon Healy/Daniel Vogelbach platoon and the best minor league option just may be White.
If he can hit well in the hitter-friendly California League, he could see an early promotion to Arkansas. But if they start him off in Arkansas, a promotion to Tacoma and the hitter-friendly western half of the Pacific Coast League would not be an unreasonable result if he handles Double-A readily.
Either way, it is possible Evan White can play his way into the big leagues by September, well ahead of schedule, and be the first position player to reach the majors from the 2017 draft.