Dipoto: What Mariners’ expectations for Evan White are in 2023

Feb 5, 2023, 12:56 PM

Mariners Evan White...

Mariners 1B Evan White in action against Cleveland on May 13, 2021. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Early on after the Mariners began their rebuild ahead of the 2019 season, a key piece they believed would play a big part in their eventual return to contention was first baseman Evan White.

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Seattle’s first-round pick in 2017 out of the University of Kentucky, it didn’t take long for White to get a regular spot in the M’s lineup, starting 52 games and appearing in 54 overall in 2020 during that pandemic-shortened 60-game campaign.

White shined in the field, showing off his impressive athleticism on his way to winning the American League Gold Glove at first base. His bat, however, was a different story. He hit just .176 with a .599 OPS, and while his eight home runs were a nice figure, his 84 strikeouts to 18 walks over 202 plate appearances were tough to swallow.

Hitting MLB pitching hasn’t been the biggest worry when it comes to White over the past two seasons, however.

After playing 30 games for the Mariners early in the 2021 season, White hit the injured list with a left hip flexor strain that required surgery. It was a long road back to the field for White, as he would then miss the start of the 2022 season due to sports hernia surgery. And while he did return to play 28 games for Triple-A Tacoma last year, he ended the season on the Rainiers’ IL due to hip discomfort.

The question now is where the Mariners stand with White, who Seattle was impressed with enough to sign to a six-year, $24 million contract just after the 2019 season, before he’d even made his big league debut.

Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto has a positive outlook on White’s status, first saying Wednesday during the team’s annual media day that White is “as healthy as he’s ever been,” then providing a deeper look at the 26-year-old first baseman Thursday on Seattle Sports’ weekly Jerry Dipoto Show.

“You know, we’re excited about where Evan’s at,” Dipoto told Mike Salk and Brock Huard. “… Right now, our medical people, our trainers and strength coaches couldn’t be more excited about where he is physically. I think that’s true of Evan himself. He had a really long couple of years with very real injuries, but this is an incredibly athletic player who I think – and I’ve said this before – is as good as any defensive first baseman I’ve ever laid an eye on.”

Dipoto mentioned that he’s brought up before how harmful the 2020 season was in particular for prospects and young players, as they lost key development time with no minor league games played that year and the MLB season cut down to just over a third of the length of a normal 162-game campaign.

“I think Evan is among those who was probably most harmed,” Dipoto said.

The Mariners remain optimistic that White will become a contributor to the team sooner rather than later, but with Ty France coming off an All-Star season for Seattle at first base, there is no need need to rush him.

“This guy can still do a lot of really interesting things, and he’s still a young player,” Dipoto said of White. “So when it comes to spring training, he needs he needs (at-bats). He’s missed a lot of plate appearances over the last two years. … He’ll compete for a spot on the roster. The likelihood is we’ll want him to gather up some at bats at Triple-A and get back to some type of routine, but he’s got the talent where you don’t hold him back. It’s up to his health to determine the impact he can have on our team, and we’re still hopeful that that’s a real thing.”

Though White hit just .204 with a .308 on-base percentage with the Rainiers last season, he had a torrid August where he slashed .288/.373/.731 for a 1.104 OPS over 15 games with six home runs, five doubles, and six walks to eight strikeouts. And there’s the fact that his defense has never been a concern.

“There is no such thing as a bad hop with Evan at first base. And to have him back in a good place, he can swing the bat, he hits the ball hard. Before going back down with another setback in September, his final month last year in Tacoma was just eye-opening,” Dipoto said.

And there’s still potential for White to open eyes in a Mariners uniform, as he is someone who Dipoto said consistently ranks highly in Seattle’s organization in terms of strength measurements, which he does in a way that’s perhaps different than others.

“I’d say Evan does it with a unique degree of flexibility. In addition to the strength and explosiveness, he’s also incredibly flexible, and that’s a rare combination. Literally, if you naturally saw left-handers throw from shortstop, you’d say (about White), ‘Oh, that’s probably a shortstop athlete.’ But it’s a left-handed thrower, so it’s more often that he’s going to see first base, the corner outfield. He’s a tremendous athlete, and (I’m) really looking forward to seeing what he comes into spring training looking like.”

The Jerry Dipoto Show airs at 8:30 a.m. every Thursday morning during Brock and Salk on Seattle Sports 710 AM. You can hear the full edition from last week in the second half of the podcast at this link or in the player below.

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