Tyler White has already accomplished a hell of a lot for a baseball player, no less a baseball player who wasn’t drafted until the 33rd round. He earned six minor-league promotions in just three years. He hit .311/.422/.489 across those six stops — a surefire way to quickly climb the organizational ladder. He was invited to the Houston Astros’ big-league camp, where he hit .348/.446/.543, and at the end of it all, he was handed the Opening Day job as the team’s first baseman, and why wouldn’t he?
It was somewhat of a surprise, given White having never played in the majors, and the Astros’ status as a contender, and Jon Singleton having been the favorite throughout the winter, but White outplayed Singleton, and frankly, White’s outplayed Singleton every step of the way.
So a 25-year-old rookie is now the starting first baseman on a team many consider to be the best in the American League, and expectations, naturally, are high. It doesn’t take much more than a quick perusal of #AstrosTwitter to see the hype surrounding White. Many feel he’s the long-term answer at first base for a team who gave 47 starts to Luis Valbuena and Marwin Gonzalez there in the midst of a playoff run last season. Some are calling for Rookie of the Year. Someone I spoke with recently loosely compared him to Paul Goldschmidt, if not only as late-round first basemen who were slept on during their ascent through the minor leagues, despite doing nothing but crushing every level at which they played.
And it’s true — White has been slept on. Even this year, a year after putting up a .467 on-base percentage and 178 wRC+ at Triple-A, he didn’t make a single top-100 prospect list. Not at MLB, not at ESPN, not at Baseball America, not at BaseballProspectus. Our own Dan Farnsworth was higher on White than any other prospect evaluator this offseason, and even Farnsworth’s bullishness pegged White as the sixth-best prospect in the system.
Mostly, it has to do with the position. White came up as a third baseman, but has since been moved to first and may even be better suited as a designated hitter. He offers little in the way of speed, and without any value coming from the field or the bases, the bat’s got to be elite for him to have value as a prospect. His career minor-league wRC+ is 157, which sure hints at an elite bat — for reference, Goldschmidt’s was 163 — but what makes White such a compelling case, beyond the production defying his late-round draft status, is his offensive profile.
See, White’s overall production in the minors has mirrored that of a slugging first baseman, but the way he goes about that production has not. More specifically: for a first baseman, he doesn’t have much in the way of power. Instead, he derives his offensive value from a remarkable ability to control the strike zone; in the minors, he’s walked 174 times and struck out 164 times. Yes, that’s more walks than strikeouts across more than 1,200 plate appearances.
White is intriguing due in part not only to his career trajectory, but also his profile. Both seem nearly unprecedented, and so in cases like these, when we begin treading into unfamiliar territory, it only makes sense to gain context by means of historical perspective.
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