SEATTLE -- The glove has never been a question for Evan White. When it comes to defensive first basemen, he's been identified already as one of the best fielders at any position in the Minor League ranks.But to be a big-time first base prospect, White needs to hit and show
SEATTLE -- The glove has never been a question for Evan White. When it comes to defensive first basemen, he's been identified already as one of the best fielders at any position in the Minor League ranks.
But to be a big-time first base prospect, White needs to hit and show some power. That part of his game developed so well this year that the 22-year-old from Ohio was selected as this year's Mariners Minor League Player of the Year by MLB Pipeline after a strong season at Class A Advanced Modesto.
Matt Festa, a right-handed reliever who jumped from Double-A Arkansas to the Mariners' big league roster for eight games, was named the club's Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
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Each team's Hitting and Pitching Prospects of the Year were chosen by the MLB Pipeline staff. To receive consideration, players must have spent at least half the year in the Minors and appeared on the team's Top 30 Prospects list. White is Seattle's No. 2-ranked prospect, per MLB Pipeline, while Festa is No. 8.
White, the Mariners' first-round Draft pick and 17th overall selection in 2017 out of Kentucky, made an adjustment to his swing that paid dividends midway through the season and finished with a flourish that bodes well for his potentially rapid advancement.
His final line of .303/.375/.458 with 11 homers and 66 RBIs in 120 games for Modesto was bolstered greatly by his final 25 games, during which he hit .394/.487/.723 with 10 doubles, three triples, five homers and 26 RBIs.
"There were a lot of ups and downs throughout the season. I started off a little slower than I would have liked," said White, who had to make the jump from Class A Short-Season Everett in 2018. "But the big thing they said to me at the beginning of the year was to finish strong no matter what. So that was something I had in mind. We finished the year on a high note as a group, which was exciting to see."
A lot of players wear down in their first full year of pro ball, but White got stronger down the stretch and said an adjustment to his batting stance played a big role.
"I lowered my hands a little bit to be able to fire from a better spot and be more consistent," he said. "It's still a work in progress. The big thing was just getting under the ball a little more. I'd be hitting some balls hard, but they were low line drives. That's cool, too, and everything, but part of my job is to drive the ball and that's going to allow me to do that at a more-consistent rate."
White will get a chance to work further on that in the Arizona Fall League, as he's one of eight Mariners now playing for the Peoria Javelinas against many of MLB's top prospects.
Festa, a 25-year-old from Staten Island, N.Y., posted a 2.16 ERA in 8 1/3 innings over eight games for the Mariners. He spent most of the season as the closer for Arkansas, going 5-2 with a 2.76 ERA and 20 saves in 44 appearances.
Festa impressed Mariners manager Scott Servais in his stint with Seattle, including his 1.59 ERA over 5 2/3 innings in six outings as a September callup.
"He's not afraid," Servais said. "He goes right after guys and pounds the strike zone. He gets ahead in the count. The development of his secondary pitches, I think his slider is really good.
"Like any young player he'll make a mistake once in a while, but I like what I've seen. I think as he continues to get more experience and progress at this level, he's going to be OK. He really is. I like him. I like his demeanor. He's on the attack mode."
Festa said he soaked up as much as possible from his time with the Mariners.
"I learned from every experience and opportunity," Festa said. "My biggest takeaway was you need to be better with two strikes. Hitters are a lot better up here at wasting pitches they don't like and taking what they get. I was pretty effective at getting ahead, I just need to be better at executing with two strikes."
Festa's rise has been swift. After being drafted in the seventh round out of East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania in 2016, he converted to a relief role last year for Modesto and pitched well enough to get a spot in the Arizona Fall League and then an invitation to Seattle's big league camp this spring.
A hip injury sidelined him all spring, but he wound up finally getting his shot to show what he could do later in the year, and took full advantage.
"Last year, I said to myself at the end of the season, 'I just had the best season ever. Nothing can top this,'" Festa said. "I was going to the AFL and everything. Then this year turned out to be even better because I got to come up here [to Seattle].
"It's just been an amazing ride, from top to bottom. Starting with the big league camp and not being able to show anybody that I can do this to being able to be up here in September was amazing."
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.