Alex White was considered a top 10 draft prospect by virtually every major publication, but not Project Prospect. While I enjoy railing against convention, my stance on White as a prospect was not just so I could say, "Look, I'm being different!" Instead, through serious observational analysis I found that Alex White is a very high risk prospect and as such demoted him in my final draft rankings (he sat at No. 49 on draft day). With that in mind, I thought we could take a closer look at White the prospect.
I had the opportunity to watch White pitch in at least parts of four separate games this spring. The information that I present here will be based on a compilation of those efforts and, I think, add a more comprehensive view of White than if I had just seen him pitch once or twice.
Watching White pitch I found myself reminded of one of my favorite movies The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Let's start with the Clint Eastwood of the group, The Good.
Alex White has good arm strength, as he can run his fastball up as high as 95 mph. His fastball normally sat 88-92 mph and while the velocity isn't overwhelming, the movement on the pitch is. White had the best sinking fastball of anyone I saw in the 2009 draft, save Stephen Strasburg's two-seamer. One would expect White, who generates good sink on his fastball and lives down in the zone, to be a substantial groundball pitcher at higher levels. According to the greatness of CollegeSplits.com White had a 105/63 ground out to air out ratio this spring.
White compliments his well-above-average fastball with a rather unique array of offspeed and breaking pitches. White's two primary breaking balls are a slider and splitter, both of which flash plus and should be at least above-average offerings. White's slider has massive break and will start inside to right-handers and finish well off the plate. Many college hitters chase pitches like that, but fewer professional hitters will. White's slider also breaks relatively early out of his hand, occasionally running together with his curve, which will make it easier for big leaguers to spot. I think White's splitter holds more promise than his slider, as it has good, late downward break. The splitter generally clocked in at 83-85 mph. When White's fastball was in the low-90's, the speed difference made both pitches more effective. However, when White's fastball was in the 80's, the two pitches ran together and could get hit hard. White has a rather large range of velocities for his fastball (more on that later), but when he's on the high end of the range, he's really good.
White also showcased a changeup, curveball and occasionally a four-seam fastball. Overall, White has a big league arm. He has good stuff across the board but not the not the overwhelming true plus stuff some have attributed to him. White seems to have a decent feel for pitching and will often work backwards in the count, starting off with breaking balls and then trying to get outs with his fastball.
Now onto Angel Eyes, The Bad. White has relatively poor command and control for an upper echelon college pitcher. This spring White walked 9.7% of batters he faced, which isn't horrible but isn't good either. White also had 16 wild pitches in his 16 starts for the North Carolina Tar Heels and gave up 10 home runs in 107.0 innings which is too many for a ground ball pitcher in a pitcher's park. White had trouble hitting his spots with all his pitches and was wild in the zone. He's an aggressive pitcher who tries to pound the zone, but many of those pitches end up in hittable parts of the zone. Pitches that were supposed to be on the corner catch too much of the plate, pitches that were supposed to be down get elevated a bit. When White is staying down in the zone and hitting his spots, he can dominate. After watching him several times he didn't show me an ability to constantly do that.
Unfortunately that leaves us with Alex White's Tuco, The Ugly, his mechanics.
My arm hurts just watching him. White has a long arm action. He breaks his hands low then picks the ball up with his elbow and swings it back before finally elevating the ball to the driveline and actually applying force towards home plate. His arm action is very dangerous, and causes a great deal of strain on both his elbow and shoulder. White hyperabducts his elbow, bringing it above his shoulder, in the dreaded "Inverted W" position. I have not found one pitcher with similar arm action who has stayed healthy.
Compounding the problems presented by White's arm action is his lack of utilization of his lower half. White has a 'tall-and-fall' delivery, which places the burden of generating force on the smaller muscles of the upper body rather than the bigger, strong muscle groups of the legs. Lack of leg drive and an "Inverted W" is a really horrible combination.
White also opens his front side a little early which both reduces effectiveness and increases injury risk. His front shoulder opens a little too early, as does his front hip. Both of these are related to White's small stride, a negative consequence of having a 'tall-and-fall' delivery.
I believe that these mechanical problems are the reason behind White's below-average control and his inconsistent velocity. I also believe that his delivery makes him a substantial injury risk and a player who's very unlikely to be able to maintain a starter's workload for any significant length of time.
It is important to note that I'm not saying White WILL get hurt, only that he represents a risk. There are many, many other factors that play a role in pitcher health including workload, pronation (which is hard to tell for sure without super-highspeed cameras), joint load strength, genetic factors, and dozens more.
Overall from White I saw a guy with good, not great, stuff and below-average command; both are exacerbated by ugly mechanics. To me, the combination of power stuff, iffy command, and injury risk screams reliever and I think that will be White's ultimate role in the majors. The good news is that the Indians could sure use bullpen help. The bad news is that there was much better value available with the 15th overall pick.
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