AMARILLO, Texas – Owen White just needs to pitch.
A 2018 second-round pick out of a North Carolina high school, the 6-foot-3 right-hander entered 2023 with only 115 1/3 innings. Tommy John surgery, a broken hand, arm fatigue and the pandemic-canceled 2020 season have kept the No. 2 Rangers prospect away from Minor League mounds in recent years, but when he’s been on one, he’s shown ample potential, enough so that he could play a prominent role in the Texas rotation as early as this year.
Now pitching for Double-A Frisco, White has made some adjustments to make sure his playing time matches his potential.
“Honestly, shortening my arm up has helped me out a lot,” he said. “[I’m] bouncing back a little bit faster. Just trying to stay as healthy as possible."
Speaking before the MLB Pipeline Game of the Month in April, the No. 57 overall prospect, who owns a 2.93 ERA with 23 strikeouts in 27 2/3 innings this season, showed us the grips for his fastballs, slider, changeup and curveball and broke down how his arsenal makes him effective on the bump. Examples from that repertoire come from an April 25 start against Amarillo in which White pitched into the seventh inning for the first time this season.
For his basic four-seamer, White generally tries to keep fingers centered on the seams but sometimes prefers to adjust a bit inside to generate the backspin necessary to carry the pitch up in the zone. On the sinker, he’ll place both fingers on a single seam to cause the dip that can either miss bats or force weak contact.
It all comes down to need and reading batters while trying to fit into modern pitching philosophies.
“I have good results with four-seams up that have some ride and carry,” White said. “If I see a guy cheating to the top of the zone, then I’ll try to sneak a sinker under the barrel.”
White has a history of touching 98 mph with his four-seam but was generally closer to the 92-94 mph range in that April 25 start. Five of his 10 whiffs in the outing came on the fastball, more than any other pitch, and four of those were located up in the zone. True to form, he did sneak a 1-2 fastball beneath A.J. Vukovich’s bat after getting an earlier called strike on the outside corner. It’s that ability to hit his spots all over the zone that makes White’s fastballs play up beyond their pure velocities.
As effective as White’s fastball was back on April 25, his best grades can come on a mid-80s mph slider -- a plus breaker that he can manipulate as required.
“I’ve fiddled with my slider a little bit,” he said. “To get it harder and sharper, I’ll hold it with the open [horse shoe], whatever you want to call it, and try to rip as hard as I can this way. Sometimes, it’s turned into a little slutter, cutter-type deal. But staying on top has really helped me get the depth off of it with the velo.
“Then if I see somebody who’s cheating on it and wants to hit the slider backside or stay on it longer, then I’ll switch it up and go to the horseshoe and try to get it bigger and longer. That takes about two miles off of it and gives me more swing and miss.”
On April 25, White got five called strikes or whiffs on his slider, all to right-handed batters. Three of those five clocked in at 87 mph, while two others – just as White noted – were at 83 and 84 mph as he took a bit off in later innings to keep Sod Poodles guessing. But he still generally prefers the faster version.
“I want it to look like my fastball as long as possible and then try to get out of the way of the barrel as soon as it gets to the plate,” White said. “The way I could find to control it and throw it hard was to have the grip on the other side and rip down through it. … I’ve kind of switched it up, thrown it a little harder and got some velo behind it.”
Earning an above-average 55 grade in our preseason writeup, White’s cambio shows flashes of being a solid third option. The RoughRiders starter treats the pitch much like his one-seam sinker, only to move a finger over to make it more like a circle change grip.
White has certain guidelines for knowing when he can trust the change.
“More depth than run,” he said. “I think it’s more almost like a splitter but not really a splitter. [With] more depth, it plays well off the sinker, plays well off four-seam. I’m just trying to entice weak contact.”
White got three called strikes or whiffs on the changeup in the April 25 outing, and as expected, all three came against left-handed batters. Those three offerings ranged from 85-87 mph, allowing for decent separation off the fastballs, but it was the movement that seemed to have batters more befuddled.
Entering May 10, Texas League lefties have gone just 3-for-30 (.100) with nine strikeouts off White through his first six starts of the season, and honing in on the changeup will go a long way toward keeping those reverse splits.
Admittedly, the curveball was a distinct fourth pitch on April 25 as White leaned more heavily on his other three offerings. Thrown like a knuckle curve, the 79-81 mph breaking ball offers more vertical break than the slider, though sometimes White can get too on top of it and bounce the pitch (as he did in the Pitching Lab video) or under it and hang it (as he almost did against D-backs prospect Ryan Bliss).
The curve can still offer high spin rates – White says he aims for the 3,000 rpm level when he tracks the pitch – and can just be another weapon toward making the Rangers hurler a more complete presence on the bump.
“Definitely more slider-heavy,” White said. “But I love to steal strikes with my curveball. Lately, I’ve seen a lot of good swings on my slider, so I’ll throw in a curveball to try to get under the barrel or even get somebody to pop it up.”