Over the past year and a half at Baseball Prospectus, I have written dozens of notes, reports, and ten pack entries. I’ve seen 80 speed and 80 power, role players and career minor leaguers, toolsy teenagers, and a southpaw who will make a helluva pitcher if he stays on the field. None were as difficult to evaluate as Tyler White.
White, as you probably know, has transitioned smoothly to the American League. In his first 70 plate appearances, he’s belted five home runs while posting a .283/.348/.600 slash line. He has quick hands, obvious strength, and pitchers have learned very quickly that the inner half of the plate is not a safe place to leave a baseball when White is in the box. Already, pitchers are treating him like a legitimate power threat, largely scrapping their fastballs and feeding the rookie a steady diet of junk.
Obviously, it’s still very early in the season, and nobody should expect White to win the MVP award. Beyond a generous helping of expected regression at the plate, there are a few clear warts in his game that limit his overall value. He offers nothing defensively, and despite only modest strikeout totals in the minors, he’s whiffed in over 28 percent of his at-bats in the big leagues thus far (although whether that’s a problem or an Astros initiation requirement is up for debate).
But White doesn’t need to be a star to be useful and first base no longer looks like a weakness for Houston. If nothing else, White offers a stable bridge to the A.J. Reed era, and it’s clear that he has a big league future in some capacity. He’s essentially turned Jon Singleton into an afterthought.
But despite his physical skills and robust minor league numbers—White hit .311/.422/.489 across two and a half minor league seasons—you won’t find many reports on him. He didn’t make our top ten, and while I liked what I saw of him when he rolled through Tacoma last season, I only gave him a passing mention on the site:
“I saw Tyler White (Astros) twice and he crushed everything on the inner half. He has good plate discipline, knows what he can drive, and has an intelligent plan at the plate. If he can cover the outer half of the plate, he’ll be a DH someday.”
At least I wrote that much. But it’s still thin, and many worse players have received far more ink. Moreover, it was a shallow exploration of an intriguing and relatively unknown player. Over three games, he laced line drive after line drive deep to left field, wearing out a fairly decent Triple-A pitching staff: why didn’t that draw more attention? I don’t know if there is a good answer to that question, but there were four main reasons I was initially skeptical of White’s ability.
Athleticism and Position
Clearly, defense was and is not White’s strength. At 5-foot-11 and 225 pounds, he’s a slow runner, and while he played third most of the way up the ladder, he was a first baseman by the time he arrived in Triple-A. First basemen and designated hitters need to hit a lot to have value, and at that point in his career, White had succeeded against upper minors pitching for barely 50 games. To hype up a first basemen, you have to be sure they’ll rake, which leads nicely to…
In both my viewings and the rest of his minor league career, White had no trouble making hard contact. But in 294 games, he only hit 35 homers, and he was able to call a few pretty good hitter’s parks (and leagues) home. In my viewings, there was enough loft in White’s cut to drive balls out of the yard, but his swing was flatter than you’d find in most stocky, bat-only type players. There was easily double-digit home run power in the stick, but if you’re projecting a starter at first base to hit 20 dingers or fewer, you’re essentially arguing that he’ll get on base at a .360 clip or better. For all his success, that was an aggressive call to make, one that I was unwilling to stand behind at the time.
Over-Emphasizing Weak Points
Unlike some of the lower levels, Triple-A baseball is not filled with surprises. Most of the players have accrued big-league service time. Their tools are well known, their limitations established. For many, Triple-A is less a developmental level than a place to stay sharp until the big leagues beckon. Even most of the younger guys have easily identifiable holes in their games. Maybe it’s Rymer Liriano stumbling around right field. Or Mike Kickham drilling the backstop more often than the outside corner. Or Nick Ahmed bailing out.
At a level where many players are stuck due to a particular weakness, it’s easy to fall into the habit of assuming that even small flaws are crippling. White’s issues at the plate were less glaring but still present. As he swung, his weight would fall fully toward the third base line. That worked on pitches in the middle half of the plate and in, but he struggled with offerings on the outer half. He fouled off a couple good changeups, but he also swung and missed and made his weakest contact on pitches away from him. I was concerned that pitchers would pepper the outside corner, and in hindsight, I dinged him too hard for that.
White was a 33rd-round pick, a relatively poor athlete, and a first baseman who hadn’t hit a ton of home runs. Like all players at the level, he had clearly identifiable strengths. Quick hands. Strong wrists. Feel for the strike zone. But between his background and the three factors covered above, there were a lot of reasons to be skeptical. Ultimately, I didn’t want to over-hype a player who was basically a non-prospect 12 months earlier on the strength of his numbers and three good games in Tacoma. Too wary of a type I error, I undersold a very good hitter.
And of course, none of this is to declare White a star. Major-league pitchers are good, and odds are that they’ll identify and capitalize on a flaw that brings White’s numbers back into the stratosphere. But regardless of what the future holds for White, he’s established himself as a person of interest. Twenty-five homers looks well within reach, and there are presumably fewer Houstonians counting down the days until Reed gets his first big league audition.
Regardless of his ultimate role though, White has given me, as an evaluator and a reporter, a valuable lesson: the next time you see someone mash the ball like that three days in a row, don’t be so afraid to go write about it.
Thank you for reading
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