The Seattle Mariners rookie first baseman Evan White was a mixed bag of results in 2020. However, rather than some of the parts of his game being good and some being bad, it was pretty much either he was one of the best in the league for a certain statistic, or he was one of the worst.
The great parts of Evan’s season were that he hits to all fields and he hit for power (which was a question mark heading into 2020). He also ranked in the 87th percentile for exit velocity, 95th percentile for hard-hit %, and 90th percentile for barrel %. Oh, and I don’t even have to breakdown his defensive game at all as he was said to possibly be the best defensive first baseman in the league heading into his rookie season and he won the AL Gold Glove for first base, so yeah, he’s good there.
On the flip side, White’s worst stat was his K%, striking out 41.6% of the time which was the second-worst rate in the league. He also had a zone swing % right below league average, meaning that he had an average eye for pitches in the zone, but his zone contact % was only 71.1% while the MLB average was 82.8%.
While his contact stats were very unimpressive, he did have some encouraging stats about his pitch selection. He had an average walk rate that was also higher than he had in A or AA (White only played 4 games in AAA) and a chase % that was 4% better than the league average. So, Evan White was swinging at the right pitches, and when he made contact he was hitting the ball hard. The only problem was when he was swinging he only got a hit 17.6% of the time.
What can we expect Evan White’s game to look like in 2021?
White hit well for average in the minors, with his batting lines in one season in both A and AA being .303/.375/.458 with an .833 OPS and 11 homers in 538 plate appearances in single A Modesto, and .293/.350/.488 with an .838 OPS and 18 homers in 400 plate appearances in AA Arkansas.
His 2020 stats did not look like his minors stats at all as White hit a line of .176/.252/.346 which added up to a .599 OPS. With a full spring training to work on his swing unlike the unique situation he had in 2020 with just Summer Camp right before the season started, his average will get better in 2021.
He may lose some of his power if he fixes his swing to be able to hit the ball more often and foul off more pitches, but this will help his average as White hits to all fields and can’t be shifted on, and fouling off more pitches will lead to a higher walk rate.
Baseball Reference‘s projections have White with a batting line of .216/.297/.392 (.689 OPS) in 2021 and Fangraphs ZiPS projections have him at .210/.270/.373 (.643 OPS) for next season. However, based on breaking down Evan’s game and what I think he has been working on this offseason and will work on in spring training, here is a realistic prediction from me and an optimistic prediction.
Realistic expectation: Batting line of .210/.290/.390, a .680 OPS, 19 home runs, top 3 for AL 1B Gold Glove.
Optimistic prediction: Batting line of .265/.345/.450, a .795 OPS, 28 home runs, wins second Gold Glove.
I think the realistic prediction for White makes a lot of sense, as he will still hit some rough patches in 2021 but has a decent increase in average and SLG%, as well as a slight increase in walk rate. The optimistic prediction is if everything clicks and Evan starts hitting for average as he did in the minors. If Evan can correct his missed swings and make a lot more contact while he keeps the power, my optimistic prediction might even be too low for what he can hit in his first full season in the majors.