The MLB draft is an experience that can either be the highest of highs or the lowest of lows, especially for a ballplayer in the middle of his collegiate graduation season. In 2016, Harrison White felt both ends of that spectrum.
“To be completely honest, I remember telling someone a couple days before the draft that we had a better chance of the ceiling falling in on us than me being drafted. It wasn’t that I didn’t have confidence in myself as a player, but I hadn’t received any contact whatsoever from anyone affiliated with pro ball or indy ball,” White divulged. “After my final game in college, I broke down in tears in right field after our team meeting because I thought my baseball career was over. Every time I think about that moment, the emotions come rushing back to me.”
It wasn’t that White couldn’t do great things outside of the baseball world. After all, he went to Yale and graduated with a major in political science and a would-be minor in pre-med (Yale doesn’t provide minor degrees). However, baseball was always Harrison’s first love and, if given the chance, he would commit to giving his heart to it.
“I realized that doing what you love is an absolute necessity. And I’m doing it,” White said.
White is still doing what he loves after he was selected by the Marlins in round 31 with pick number 929 of 1,215. White, who was busy preparing himself for life away from the game, didn’t even hear his own name called. Instead, it was a former teammate and fellow draftee who told him the news that fateful day, June 14, 2017.
“I was in my car and my buddy Richard Slenker, who was drafted a couple rounds earlier by the Astros, called me. I expected he was calling me to thank me for congratulating him on getting drafted, but when I answered the phone, he yelled, “Congrats dude! You just got drafted by the Marlins!” So I immediately went on my phone and checked the draft tracker and, sure enough, there was my name,” White said. “Words can’t express the thrill I felt in that moment, especially after thinking my baseball career was done forever. I think that was the first time in my life I’d ever felt shock and I still get goosebumps when I tell that story.”
When he wasn’t reviewing Supreme Court decisions, turning the pages of Marx, Locke and Paine and/or prepping for the MCAT, White spent his time at Yale on the baseball diamond slashing .289/.374/.404 with 26 career doubles and a 114/56 K/BB. A guy who went from a .266/.356/.297 slash line in his first 26 games at the collegiate level all the way up to a .293/.369/.479 line in his junior season and rounded it his tenure out by posting a career high .380 OBP via a 13.51 walk rate and getting his attached to an Ivy League championship, White lends his growth as a hitter at Yale to the attentiveness of his hitting coach Tucker Frawley.
”[Frawley] was really into statistics and metrics – what types of changes made each player attain the highest exit velocity at the plate and what made each player field the ball with the highest efficiency, that kind of thing,” White said. “I definitely started thinking about the game a little differently because of that.”
In addition to the positive impact Guarino left on him via his knowledge of the analytical side of the game, White says his time at Yale was paramount in teaching him the intangibles and in — you guessed, Ivy League aficionados — making him a more astute and heady player.
“On top of all the metrics, I think the four years of college ball I played only helped me develop a higher baseball IQ,” White said. “You can talk about metrics and do everything in your power to optimize them but at the end of the day you still need to know how to play the game and play it smart and I think my time in college helped me develop in that aspect.”
While posting respectable numbers at the plate, White also built positional flexibility by moving from the infield to the outfield, a process he describes as new and unique but overall, natural and comfortable.
“My entire life I played infield. I really don’t think I even logged an inning in the outfield until the season between my sophomore and junior years at Yale,” White said. “That transition was pretty easy, though. I worked hard in the off season, played every summer ball game in the outfield, took extra fungoes, and watched lots of videos of Mike Trout and Kevin Kiermaier. The toughest part was learning the new footwork for fielding out there as opposed to the infield. Fly ball reads, line drive reads, all that stuff – it came pretty easily to me. By no means was I perfect from the start but by the time my junior season at Yale came around, I was comfortable in right field.”
White rode his solid college career into the professional ranks last season with the Marlins. There in Batavia, he proved that his catalytic type offensive skill set wasn’t exclusive to the collegiate ranks nor to metal bat hitting. As a Muckdog, he slashed .280/.379/.348, almost identical to the .285/.380./.386 line he posted in his senior year as a Bulldog. According to White, his ability to turn in the same quality numbers despite the change in competition level which lead to the late-round pick opening eyes both inside the organization and out was a product of him staying within himself and not allowing himself to become hurried in his further development. However, he also felt as though he had something to prove. According to White, that’s what has kept him grinding.
“I really tried to minimize the pressure I put on myself by reminding myself that I was a late round pick from Yale that I don’t think many people thought could be a serious player. Obviously I was drafted for a reason, but there were a variety of labels on me that signaled to everyone else not to expect much from me as a player,” White said. “I took that mindset into the season and sought to disprove those labels. If I didn’t do well, fine. That’s sort of what everyone expected. But if I did do well, then maybe I’d have a chance to open some eyes and get myself noticed.”
As content as he was with his output in his rookie campaign, White understands there’s still a ton of work to be done for him to become a standout prospect. He intends to bring the same compete level this year as he continues to build toward his future.
“I’m happy that I was able to do what I did but by no means am I satisfied,”, White said. “Last season is last season and I can’t rest on a decent performance in 2017. I need to continue to make a name for myself this season.”
Overall, White is a contact-first threat who possesses a good eye, a good barrel path to the ball and extremely quick hands, giving him the ability to get inside any pitch. He also has the ability to adjust his approach anywhere in the count, making him an advantageous two hole hitter that reaches base for power behind him. For the often power-needy Yale during his tenure there, White was often moved around and pressed into action spots that did not necessarily match his skill set, which might’ve cost him some points off his average and OBP. Now back in his proper element, White is clear as to what his role is in the offense and plans to let his natural abilities as a count working line drive hitting run scoring on base spark plug take over full time.
“Ideally, I’d like to hit second. That’s been my favorite spot in the lineup since I was 12. That said, I also see myself as a leadoff hitter as long as I continue to work on my speed and get faster and also as a bottom of the order, 8 or 9 type of guy. I’m a table setter,” White said. “At Yale, I was more of a middle of the order, drive in runs and split gaps kind of guy who was also expected to put a few balls out of the yard each year. I think the biggest transition from Yale to pro ball was realizing that I’m not supposed to be a power guy. That’s not my role. If I run into a ball now and again and it happens to sail out, fantastic. But that’s not my game. I’m going to leave that to the guys that are over 6 feet. My goal this year is to focus on line drives with backspin to all parts of the yard. Hopefully that will lead to a consistent and successful season in Greensboro.”
White is a small but athletic 5’11, 175 lefty hitter who gets low in a semi-split stance, minimizing a strike zone that he knows very well. Early in ABs, he gets ahead in the count almost exclusively and from there, lets his body go to work for him. Despite being undersized he gets his entire frame involved in his approach, stepping into the ball nicely from a slightly off-center and backloaded split stance on pitches on the outer half and shows the ability to shorten up and get inside pitches thanks to quick and strong hands on the inner half. After a small front foot timing trigger, White engages a quick straight through line drive cut with excellent speed, allowing him to wait out the break on pitches advantageously. White’s knack for finding the proper path to the ball that allows him to put tons of balls in play including many of them on the ground and his plus speed make him a challenging out an on-base threat nearly every every time he puts wood on leather. One area of focus for White should be in replicating the great vision and line of sight and solid contact he shows against righties to his ABs vs same side pitching. Last season, nearly all of his success came against righties (101 ABs, 337/.417/.426 17/14 K/BB) while his 31 ABs against lefties (small sample aside) were nearly a total bust (.097/.263/.097, 15/7 K/BB). However, with more professional experience and coaching, this issue should rectify itself.
Defensively, White played a fine right field both in college where his strong arm actually even earned him some time pitching and in Batavia last year where he committed just three errors in 32 games. However, given his offensive background and the fact that he has good range to both sides I would expect White to make the transition out of a power heavy defensive position and back to his natural spot on the infield at shortstop. Though he hasn’t played it much since high school, White says with some reconditioning and practice, he’d welcome the switch back to the infield and believes it would be good for his career to prove he could be more versatile.
“I’d be fine with that. I love the infield,” White said. “I’d need a little while to get back in the groove and work on taking grounders but I’d definitely be excited to show everyone I have another facet to my game.”
Although he has a ways to go in his development, White is a possible diamond-in-the-rough type find by the Marlins. His floor should be placed at a super-utility type bench player and his ceiling should be that of a 70 grade for average threat and similarly graded defender. An extremely humble kid with leadership qualities by way of an outgoing, infectious personality which makes him a fantastic team player and with great athleticism and the raw tools to match it, if White turns puts in similar work and output as last season in what should be his first full pro year this year in Greensboro, he won’t fly under the radar much longer.