White makes most of first AFL start

October 15th, 2021

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Owen White didn’t pitch in 2019 due to Tommy John surgery. He didn’t pitch in game action in 2020 due to the canceled Minor League season. He got only 35 1/3 innings this summer due to a broken right hand.

So when people say the Arizona Fall League is an opportunity to make up for lost time, that is triply the case for White.

“It is no doubt one of the bigger scale things of my career so far,” he said. “I think I needed to prove something to myself and to prove it to everyone else why [Texas] drafted me.”

He made the most of that first chance Thursday.

The Rangers’ No. 29 prospect struck out five and scattered two hits and two walks over five scoreless innings to lead Surprise to a 1-0 win over Salt River at Surprise Stadium.

White threw 73 pitches, 46 for strikes including 10 swings-and-misses and credited Nationals catcher Drew Millas for helping make the most of their first time working together.

“Drew and I were on the same page,” he said. “We synced up some sinkers and some changeups that played off each other really well. That was the goal going into the game to hopefully entice some swings-and-misses and weak contact. I think we achieved that.”

White escaped a pair of jams in the first and third innings, both centered around Top 100 prospects Brett Baty and Spencer Torkelson. The Rafters' sluggers both singled off the Saguaros' starter in the first frame but were left stranded after White got Michael Toglia to fly out to center and struck out Ryan Kreidler looking. He walked both stars in the third in back-to-back plate appearances before another Toglia lineout to center ended the threat.

No other Salt River hitter reached against White on the afternoon, and the hurler retired the final seven batters he faced in the gem.

The 22-year-old right-hander has the stuff of a promising starter when healthy as he showed Thursday. His fastball sits in the mid-90s, and his curveball and slider can both be promising breaking pitches. He showed off that package in limited time at Low-A Down East -- his first official Minor League stop since being drafted in the second round of the 2018 Draft -- this summer and was especially dominant in September. White struck out 33 and walked only two over 18 2/3 innings across his final three starts with the Wood Ducks and posted a 1.83 ERA in that span, giving him ample momentum heading into the Arizona Fall League.

Despite the impressive grades on his breaking stuff, the fact that he credited the changeup with his gem Thursday should be music to the Rangers’ ears.

“I think comfort wise, I’ve been throwing it with conviction, and I think it plays well off the sinker,” White said of the change. “I’ve been throwing the sinker a little bit more, and it just gave us something to play off. It was the same arm angle, same action, just a little bit slower, and that got some swing-and-misses. When you throw a changeup for a strike, it makes it a lot easier for everything else.”

White, who has yet to play High-A, certainly made it look easy against advanced competition, and if he can continue to stay healthy this fall, more outings like Thursday’s could be ahead.

“I’m just staying confident in myself, knowing that I have the ability to pitch at this level,” he said. “I have catchers and good coaches that are going to push me every day to know that I can do it.”

The only offense of the afternoon was provided by Reds No. 16 prospect Ivan Johnson, who went deep to straightaway center in his first at-bat of the Arizona Fall League season. The homer was one of only three Saguaros hits in the contest, though the home club did strike out only four times.

Baty continued to carry a hot stick for Salt River, and by reaching in his first three times to the plate (single, walk, double), he extended his season-opening on-base streak to eight plate appearances. The Mets prospect finished 2-for-4 in the loss and is 5-for-7 (.714) on the young season.