Leading up to Day 1 of the MLB Draft on June 12, we will be conducting Q&A interviews with many prospects who are projected to be first-rounders. For a complete listing of these interviews, click here.
Next on the hot seat is Kentucky first baseman Evan White, a 6-foot-3, 177 lb. junior from Gahanna, Ohio. White, who is very gifted defensively, hit .368/.450/.627 with nine homers and 40 RBI for the Wildcats, who are competing in a Super Regional against rival Louisville this weekend.
White is slated to be the 18th overall pick in our latest composite mock draft, with Baseball America (15th-Astros), MLB.com (19th-Giants), ESPN (19th-Giants) and all projecting him off the board before pick no. 20. Be sure to check out White’s full scouting report over at SB Nation’s Minor League Ball.
When did you first get into baseball as a kid and realized that you loved the game?
“It was really a family thing for me. Everybody in my family played growing up and stuff like that. Since I can remember, I always had a ball in hand and bat. Really, from the get-go. I didn’t start playing I a league or anything until I was in second grade, but I started travel ball when I was 9. At that point, I was a pretty good player. I always had fun with it and never really thought about playing collegiately. Obviously, I wanted to play pro ball and collegiately but I never sat there and thought, ‘oh, I’m good enough’ at a certain age. I just kind of played and let it take care of itself.”
Both your grandfather and uncle played professionally in the Reds’ organization. What impact have they had on this process?
“A huge impact, because they’ve really set the tone for me and given me a pathway to go about my business. I’ve learned that you get better and each and every day. Being able to go to the ballpark with them growing up was huge for me, and then my mom... I have a younger sister who is seven years younger than me and when even when she was pregnant with her she would go out back and throw with me. Getting out there and throwing with her and having BP, that was huge for me. My family was very supportive.”
Growing up, which team was your favorite? Who was your favorite player?
“The Reds... and Ken Griffey Jr. when I was a little kid and then Joey Votto as I got older.”
Was Votto one of the reasons you wanted to play first?
“Yeah, definitely. I look at the way he plays defense as well as him swinging the bat. I think one of the things that really sets him apart is the adjustments he’s able to make pitch-to-pitch. You can see him mentally challenging himself from at-bat to at-bat and pitch to pitch. I really respect his game and he’s one of the guys I really look up to and respect as a first baseman.”
You’re one of the top fielding prospects in this year’s draft, with Gold Glove potential. Why do you personally take so much pride in your defense?
“It’s something I’ve done since I started playing baseball. I don’t want to be just a one-way player, I want to be able to be an all-around player who can help the team defensively, offensively and on the basepaths. It’s just something I take pride in, that my dad [and uncle and grandfather] instilled in me at a young age. It’s stuck with me throughout.”
Was there ever a turning point moment for you when you realized you might be a top draft pick?
“Probably this year to be honest with you. Playing with those guys this summer and playing with Team USA was an incredible experience. I got to learn a lot and I got a ton of exposure out there. When we were in L.A., we had a ton of scouts and higher-up guys that were at our games. It was a really cool experience, and I think that... being named to that team was kind of the moment where I was like, ‘oh my gosh, I have the chance at being a top pick. It was really cool for me. It still hasn’t sunk in really because it hasn’t happened yet, I guess. Stuff happens, but it’s definitely really cool to be part of that.”
Back in high school, what led to you choosing to go to Kentucky?
“Just playing against the top competition in the country, playing in the SEC. In my opinion, and some might disagree, the SEC is the best conference in the world. Especially baseball-wise. That competition and being able to challenge myself was a big reason. The coaching staff played a big part as well. It really came down to just playing against the top competition week in and week out, so that’s pretty much why.”
You’re a guy that started for three years, with almost every game, like you said, against top competition whether in the SEC or solid non-conference opponents. Do you think that puts you at an advantage over some other guys around the country?
“I would definitely say so because to be the best you can be, you’ve gotta play against the best. I think it’s a really good challenge to play against top competition, guys like [North Carolina pitcher] J.B. Bukauskas and [Vanderbilt pitcher Kyle Wright]. It shows what you need to work on and some areas you might need to improve on. It’s really cool to challenge yourself against those guys, and it’s also part of the competitive nature. If you want to be the best, you have to face the best and beat the best. It’s all part of it.”
For you, what’s the biggest strength in your game?
“I feel like it’s being able to contribute in all facets of the game. If you’re having an off day at the plate, being able to still play good defense. If you’re having a good day at the plate, you’re obviously helping out that way too. I like to be able to help out in all sorts of ways. Just being able to be consistent.”
Moving forward, what do you want to work on most to advance your game at the next level?
“I think it’s no secret that I’m not the biggest first baseman in the world and that I’m not the big power guy. I think the power has come along more this year and it’s done that every year I’ve been in college. I’m looking forward to that continuing to grow and I think that’s an area I can continue to improve upon. I feel like that’s an area that some people would call my weakness, so just continuing to improve on that while getting stronger and developing my swing”
Specifically, how do you plan on improving that power?
“It all goes back to your work ethic in the cages and the weight room. Knowing my swing, I feel like my approach this year has gotten better just thinking about pitches and knowing situations. Knowing when it’s time when I need to be more selective or looking for pitches that I can drive in the gap or drive out of the ballpark versus times when there’s a guy on third base and less than two outs and you just need to get him in. Just knowing those situations, maturing as a player and continuing to grow. I feel like I’m pretty mature as a player but there’s obviously always room for improvement.”
Some have suggested that you shift to the outfield as a professional. What are your thoughts on your position moving forward?
“That’s a really good question. I try not to think about it too much. It really comes down to... this is a cliché answer, but it really comes down to what the team needs and wants from me. I feel like I can be a Gold Glove winner at first. I’ve played first more in my life so obviously I feel more comfortable there right now. I’ve been able to get some reps in the outfield as well and have started to get more comfortable out there. I just haven’t played out there in a while. I played a little bit in the fall and I felt myself getting more comfortable, so that’s a good feeling. Just like everything else in like baseball, it’s a game in reps and if I get more reps out there I feel like I could be a very good outfielder as well. It goes back to what the team wants and needs.”
You’re unique in that you throw left-handed and bat right-handed. How did that happen?
“Funny story. When I first started picking up a little bat, I would always swing left-handed. I had an older cousin and he was a righty, probably like six or seven years older than me. He was a righty who had a right-handed golf club that my grandpa cut down for him to swing and use in the backyard. I picked that up and started swinging it... I don’t know if there’s an exact moment with that but I’ve always hit right-handed since then. ”
Time for the comp question. Which major-leaguer has a game most similar to yours?
“It’s tough because right now, I consider myself a first baseman so it’s tough to compare me to an outfielder. At first base, guys I really like to model my game after... the top guy would be Eric Hosmer. He’s got power, more power than I do right now obviously. But he’s not hitting 40 home runs a year, at least last time I checked he hasn’t. Just being very good defensively, and he’s gonna produce in the lineup. He can help the team win in many different facets of the game. I’d say Hosmer, probably.”
This close to the draft, do you have any expectations as to when you’ll be selected? Any goals?
“You have a little bit of an idea. I like to stay in the loop with my advisor because I think about that stuff. It doesn’t really bother me and I try not to think about it too much. I just go out there and play and let that stuff take care of itself. We have an idea on where we’re gonna go, but as I said, I’m not thinking about that too much and I’m not worried about a certain spot or a certain pick. Obviously I hope to go on the first day and hope to go in the first round, but I can’t give you too much information with that because I truly don’t know.”