Monday’s selection seemed to reflect a philosophy that Dipoto has implemented from the day he arrived in Seattle — one that emphasizes athleticism, versatility and run-prevention.
It was the 17th pick in a draft that generally takes years to yield results, so now isn’t the time to pop any bottles. Nobody knows if Evan White will be a boon or a bust — not general manager Jerry Dipoto, not his scouts, not White himself.
But Monday’s selection did seem to reflect a philosophy that Dipoto has implemented from the day he arrived in Seattle — one that emphasizes athleticism, versatility and run-prevention. The jury is still out on whether the second-year GM can end the M’s 16-year playoff drought, but we do know this: He’s going to do it his way.
With White, the Mariners get a 21-year-old who had one of the more potent bats in college baseball last year. As a junior at Kentucky, the first baseman posted a .373 batting average, a .453 on-base percentage and a .637 slugging percentage.
Does he have the ability to hit for power at the highest level in baseball? Some scouting reports are skeptical of that. There is no skepticism, however, when it comes to his ability to make contact and stop opposing teams from scoring runs.
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“He’s going to save runs for the infield,” said Scott Hunter, the Mariners’ director of amateur scouting, who compared White’s defensive potential to John Olerud. “That’s one of the reasons we really targeted him.”
Hunter added that there were coaches who told him White had the speed to play in the outfield if they wanted to put him there. Google the Gahanna, Ohio native’s name and you’ll be quick to find reports raving about his natural athleticism.
Yahoo Sports baseball writer Jeff Passan tweeted that White would likely be off the draft board by the 12th pick, so it would seem his talents are admired within the baseball community. Still, while you get the feeling most teams would like to see what White could do for them, he seems like a particular good fit for the M’s.
Remember some of the objectives Dipoto mentioned when he first got to town. In addition to “controlling the strike zone” and extending the lineup, he put a premium on adding athleticism and shoring up the defense.
“We see ourselves as a run-prevention club. You can create a lot of advantage playing good defense.” Dipoto said shortly after being hired. “We also see our overall team defense as our biggest area in need of improvement. We want to get more athletic and more defensive-oriented in the positions where we can.”
In 2015, sabermetric site FanGraphs.com ranked the Mariners’ defense as the sixth worst in MLB. In 2016, FanGraphs had the M’s defense as the eighth worst. But heading into Monday’s game against the Twins, FanGraphs had the Mariners as the 10th-best defensive team in the game.
If you believe the numbers, that’s a significant leap. Despite a flow of injuries that could have easily derailed them, the Mariners are just 1½ games back in the wild-card race and now sit just one game behind .500.
The reason? Well, there isn’t just one — but you have to think defense figured prominently into the equation.
As you would probably expect, White was still riding a high when speaking with reporters about an hour after being picked.
“It’s been an incredible day,” he said. “I can’t really put into words how much this means to me and my family. I’m going to have to pinch myself to make sure I’m living this.”
Again, we don’t know if anything will materialize with White. Many a Seattle first-round draft pick has failed to have any substantial impact for the team. That’s partially a reflection of the Mariners draft history, but it also speaks to the unpredictability of baseball scouting.
What seems clear, however, is that Dipoto has a plan he is holding firm to — whether it’s via free agency, trading or, in this case, drafting. Get speed, get defense, and in his mind, get wins.