A relative unknown as a sophomore-eligible from Santa Clara, second rounder Mitchell White could be the first Dodger pick from the 2016 draft to reach the major leagues. White was a late riser in the draft on the back of an impressive strikeout-heavy season, and he carried his success over to the professional level. Though White will likely develop as a starter, he could reach the big leagues this season as a reliever and his upside in that role could be elite.
Like Will Smith, White’s rise to a first-day selection came so quickly that I was not able to rank him in my pre-draft top 200. At the time of his drafting, no video of his pitching could even be found online, and only Baseball America of the major media outlets had a scouting report on him. Not only did White exceed my expectations in his debut (what expectations I could muster given the limited information on him), he showed more polish than I would expect from a pitcher with limited mound experience.
White may have some of the most electric stuff in the organization. His fastball reportedly touches the mid 90s, but what we can see on tape is a heavy pitch that comes in on a tough plane from his high three-quarters slot. He has excellent control of the pitch and will pound the zone with the offering.
I go back and forth on which secondary pitch I like best, choosing the curveball in my draft review, but both the curve and the cutter are plus offerings. The cutter could have the most utility as a foil to the fastball, as it comes on a similar plane before diving away from right handers. Like the fastball, White shows good control of the pitch and he could even pitch primarily off the pitch in shorter stretches.
White’s curveball could be his best swing-and-miss pitch. His break is sharp and the pitch has excellent depth, and given his arm slot, the ball does not pop up out of hand. As either a starter or a reliever, White can succeed with just this three-pitch mix, though he also has a change-up to mix in when starting.
When minor leaguers weren’t swinging and missing at his pitches (White had a 37.5% strikeout rate across three levels) they were pounding contact into the ground to the tune of a 70% ground ball rate. Both White’s fastball and cutter have ground ball inducing shape and though he’s been a heavy strikeout pitcher, his control and groundball rate should make him pitch efficient from the rotation.
Perhaps the biggest detraction on White thus far is the sample size. White missed time in college for Tommy John surgery and only spent one season in the rotation. Additionally, White only threw 22 innings in his pro debut, and as impressive as they may have been, they don’t offer much in predicting where his stuff might be across five or more innings every fifth day.
Should the Dodgers keep White in the rotation, he has the build to suggest durability. White is listed at 6’4 and 207 lbs. and has a mature/athletic build that won’t need to fill out much more. His arm action can get long, but White has shown little trouble in throwing strikes consistently. His delivery has a bit of energy and effort that might give more credence to a move to the pen, but White is athletic and easily repeats his delivery.
Given the short outings of his professional debut, it can be difficult to judge White’s ceiling as a starter. His control, ground ball rate, and strikeout potential should at least give him a third-starter ceiling with more possible if his stuff holds up over longer outings. As a reliever, though, White could be special, with two potential plus-strikeout pitches in his cutter and curve, and plenty of velocity if he can pitch more often at the top of his range.
As a reliever, White could be ready as early as 2017. He breezed through three levels in his debut, and though he’s expected to return to Rancho Cucamonga as a starter, his performance suggests he could reach Double-A Tulsa by mid-season. The Dodgers have plenty of starting pitching prospects ahead of him on the depth chart, but few can match his potential as a back-end reliever.
It’s still too early to pigeon hole him on one single path, but should a need arise, he could be accelerated up the ladder. With little urgent need, White’s development will likely stay in the rotation where he can continue to accrue innings. Reaching the California League in his debut season shows what the organization thinks of White, and given his polish and stuff, he could continue his quick pace through the system in 2017.
Note: Jose De Leon, who was traded to the Rays on Monday, was ranked No. 2 on this list.