Don’t tell Tyler White about being a longshot. White, a 33rd-round pick of the Houston Astros in 2013 has elbowed his way to the top of the food chain in what is considered one of the top minor league farm systems in Major League Baseball. His performance on the field has put him in a position to make the Astros opening day roster against a bevy of multi-million dollar and high draft pick contenders. The man signed for $1000 could be at first base in Minute Maid Park to start the 2016 season.
White never drew much attention from scouts during his time at Western Carolina University. He had drawn mild interest from the San Francisco Giants as a possible late round pick. They had discussed moving the third baseman to catcher if they drafted him. At 5-foot-11 and 225 pounds, White did not have the prototypical baseball physique scouts were looking for. He batted .354 his junior season with just one home run. He learned to hit the inside pitch, turning on the ball and getting it in the air. The resulting season of sixteen home runs was the launching pad for a quick rise in the Astros system.
White had no issue transitioning from the college game to professional baseball. In 2013, he hit .322/.406/.456 with 6 home runs and 52 runs batted in only 64 games across three levels of rookie ball. In 2014, he hit a combined .290/.410/.501 with 13 home runs and 64 RBIs at two Class A stops. 2015 saw him take his game to even another level, splitting time between Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Fresno. A .325/.442/.496 slash line with 14 home runs and 99 RBIs culminated in the Grizzlies winning the Triple-A national championship.
The consistent theme at every minor league stop plus his college days has been the ability to make contact and get on base. He has more walks than strikeouts in his minor league career and has shown the willingness to not try to force the issue if a pitch is not to his liking. When combined with his pull power, it makes for a formidable hitter in the batter’s box.
Although drafted as a third baseman and playing a good portion of his early professional games there, the Astros seem to believe White’s future is at first base. The flirtation with trying him out as a catcher is likely a thing of the past.
Even with White’s astounding success as a professional, his path to the big leagues is still anything but guaranteed. One road block was removed during the offseason when the Astros non-tendered struggling first baseman Chris Carter. This presumably left the first base job to Jon Singleton. However, Singleton had his own issues at the plate amassing 151 strikeouts in only 420 big league plate appearances. The Astros have three youngsters chomping at the bit should Singleton’s woes continue. White, Matt Duffy, and highly touted prospect A.J. Reed have put on hitting clinics in the minors. The Astros may determine that Reed needs a bit more seasoning in the minors. Duffy and White both have the ability to contribute at not only first base, but third base and designated hitter as well. White’s main drawback might be that he is not currently on the Astros 40-man roster. This could shift the advantage to Duffy, who has a roster spot after a September call up when rosters expanded.
White may not have the pedigrees of Reed, Duffy, and Singleton. He didn’t sign for millions of dollars and he hasn’t spent his formative years in the limelight. What he has done is work diligently to get in shape and become a top-level prospect. His discipline at the plate is what sets him apart from many of the other Astros prospects and current big leaguers. He has come a long way in a short period of time and if White continues to hit as he has the past three years, it will make the Astros take a long, hard look. My money is on Tyler White.