Evan White's elite athleticism on display at first base
NOTE: The 12th of a 16-part series of individual feature stories, leading up for No. 25 Kentucky’s 2016 season opener at Wofford on Feb. 19. On Wednesday, learn about Kentucky sophomore standout Evan White.
Not many teams in college baseball boast an elite athlete playing first base.
Kentucky is in that position with sophomore Evan White, a native of Gahanna, Ohio.
White, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound right-handed hitter who throws left-handed, is a game-changing talent. His prowess defensively as a freshman was unprecedented in Kentucky baseball history.
“We probably have the best first baseman in America. His name is Evan White,” UK head coach Gary Henderson said. “He is a very, very good player. He is athletic enough that if we needed to get an extra bat into the lineup we could move him into the outfield. Those of you who watched him last year, you were impressed. He’s bigger, he is stronger, he is faster and he is going to be a better player this year. We are really fortunate to have Evan in the program. He is a good player and you are going to enjoy watching him.”
He earned Southeastern Conference All-Freshman Team honors in 2015 and was named to the SEC All-Defensive Team.
“Evan is just everything you can ask for,” Kentucky sophomore infielder Riley Mahan said. “We are very spoiled to have him over there at first base. Seeing him progress body wise this year is going to be exciting to watch.”
As a skinny, projectable freshman in 2015, White hit .318 (69-for-217), showing an advanced ability to collect hits to all fields. He scored 27 runs, had 12 doubles, one triple, two homers and 28 RBI. He finished with a .779 OPS, adding three stolen bases.
He had several strong moments as a freshman, including six hits in three games vs. each No. 1 LSU and Tennessee. A pair of three-hit games and a homer highlighted a huge series at Missouri, helping UK clinch a postseason berth. He also belted a homer at Southern Cal, sailing it over the centerfield fence at historic Dedeaux Field.
Following the season, White – who was slated to go to the Cape Cod League – stayed in Lexington for the summer to focus on building strength to his quick-twitch frame.
“It was definitely huge,” White said. “I got to get stronger, heal up my hamstrings and focus on improving my body. It was nice to be able to hit in the cage whenever I wanted too, kind of have more of laid back schedule and really focus on the strength aspect.”
He has concentrated on improving his approach at the plate during the offseason and work with UK offensive coordinator Rick Eckstein, the former hitting coach for the Washington Nationals.
“I would say my approach has really matured,” White said. “I really know that I need to focus on the pitches that I can handle, instead of trying to go after the pitches that are just going to get me out. It has definitely been something that Coach Eck and I have worked on day in and day out. I am really happy with the process and how things are coming along but there is still a ways to go and I am looking forward to improving as we move forward.”
The most noticeable change has been his physicality and the impact it has made on his ability to pepper the outfield gaps with line drives. During the annual UK Fall World Series, White went 11-for-12, capping a fall practice season that saw him hit .394 with a 1.019 OPS in 66 at-bats.
“My very first impression of Evan White was how mature he was as an 18 year old kid,” Henderson recalled on his initial meeting with White. “What he has improved the most of since he has been here? He has become a better baseball player just in terms of his skills. The most noticeable thing he has improved is his strength. His body has changed. He is not 172 pounds anymore. He is 195 or 198, probably on his way to 208 in the next 15-16 months. He is stronger. He moves really well. He is really confident. His bat speed is better than it was nine months ago. His knowledge of hitting has improved. His work with Coach Eckstein has been really, really valuable. His work ethic has allowed him to make some really noticeable jumps. He is a very impressive kid.”
White, who will have the ability to play centerfield in professional baseball, dazzled with his glove throughout the 2015 season at first base and his value is unquestioned to UK’s talented infielders.
“Defense is always something I’ve taken pride in,” White, who played first base in high school and centerfield in high school summer baseball, said. “My dad instilled that in me growing up, so it really sparked from him. It has helped me in other aspects of my game as well, showing you can play both positions, you can do pretty much anything you want to do. It instills a lot of confidence in me. Going forward, it helps me to have that versatility and being able to play both positions at a high level.”
His elite athleticism and future position creates an interesting quandary for the bevy of scouts who line the stands at Cliff Hagan Stadium on a daily basis. There will be no shortage of eyes watching whenever White sheds his first base mitt for an outfield glove and heads to the outfield grass, whether it is in batting practice or competition.
White and his UK teammates are excited for the 2016 season, which was boosted significantly by the return of senior weekend starters Dustin Beggs and Kyle Cody.
“It is absolutely awesome playing behind those weekend guys,” White said. “Honestly I didn’t think I would even get a chance to play behind Beggs and Kyle again, and that is something I am very thankful for. I am really looking forward to it. Those guys are awesome and they are fun to watch pitch. I am glad they are on my team. Being able to work with them in the fall has been a big help to all the offensive guys, because those are some of the best pitchers in the country and those are the types of guys you are going to see night in and night out in the SEC. They’ve been a big help to this team. They are great leaders as well as great pitchers. It is great to have them back and we are looking forward to playing behind them every weekend.”
SEASON TICKETS NOW ON SALE
Fans can begin purchasing new season tickets and single-game tickets for the 2016 Kentucky baseball season.
For more information on UK baseball tickets, contact the Kentucky ticket office at (859) 257-1818 or visit UKathletics.com/tickets.
2016 Season Tickets:
$55 – Reserved Seating
$35 – General Admission