A few minutes before the Mariners made University of Kentucky first baseman Evan White their first-round draft choice Monday, the tense, almost grim mood inside the team’s draft headquarters at Safeco Field transformed into a room where dozens of grown men savored the reality they were about to hit a home run.
“It’s a good day for the Seattle Mariners,” scouting director Scott Hunter said after White slipped past Pittsburgh and Houston, landing at No. 17 with the Mariners. “One of the discussions we have about getting more athletic is putting kids in the system who have the potential for major-league impact. More importantly, this is a kid who’s easy to root for. He’s wired right.
“He’s a unique young man in that he’s not the prototypical showcase workout player. I spoke to his coaches, and they rave about not only his routine, but his dedication to the game and his teammates.”
White, 21, hit .373, with 10 home runs and 41 RBIs, for the Wildcats this season. And though he’s fast enough to have played outfield for the 2016 USA Baseball Collegiate National Team, the Mariners see the 6-foot-3, 205-pounder as a first baseman. White was a second-team all-SEC selection and a semifinalist for the Golden Spikes Award.
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“Saving some outs, saving some runs, that’s my goal,” White said during a conference call. “I feel like my work around the bag is something that sets me apart.”
Talking about White’s defensive potential Hunter brought up the name of former Mariners first baseman John Olerud, regarded to be the best in the business.
White identified the Royals’ Eric Hosmer as the first baseman he strives to emulate.
“He plays a great first base, a Gold Glover,” White said. “He’s someone I watch: An athletic first baseman that can pick it and swing and help teams win in different facets of the game.”
If Hunter was happy that White stayed on the board until No. 17, he was stunned that Minnesota high school pitcher Sam Carlson fell to them in the second round, with the 55th pick.
Hunter described the 6-foot-4, 215-pound right-hander as “an athlete with a chance at three-plus pitches. He’s up to 95-96 right now.
“A cold-weather kid with a huge upside,” Hunter concluded. “As an organization I don’t think we could have done better than we did today.”
The draft continues Tuesday with rounds 3 through 10. Rounds 11-40 are Wednesday.
Mariners manager Scott Servais won’t meet White until next week, but Servais can relate to the Ohio native’s exhilaration when he learned Seattle had chosen him.
“It changes your life,” Servais said a few days ago. “It’s something you dream about as a kid, getting the opportunity.”
The draft has evolved, for better or worse, since Servais accepted a land-line phone call from a Mets area scout on his 18th birthday, in 1985. A high-school catcher from the western Wisconsin town of Coon Valley, Servais had no idea he was destined for the second round, worth a signing bonus of $45,000.
Servais turned down the offer. His high-school career was limited by the cold and wet spring climate of the upper Midwest, and he figured at least three years of college would provide both physical and emotional seasoning.
“For amateur players today, the goal is to get drafted,” he said. “The money and the signing bonuses have changed so much that everybody puts their stock in draft day. Kids get drafted, they sign, and then they say, ‘Oh, gosh, I’ve gotta go play?’
“It’s about getting to the big leagues, and I think that’s been lost a little bit. I understand the price you’ve got to pay for premium talent — and we all know talent is what drives the game, and sets up organizations to be good for a long time — but along the way, certain players, and their families, have lost perspective. You’ve got to know what you’re signing up for.”
White knows. He’ll soon be traveling to the Seattle area, where he’ll likely begin his pro career with the short-season Everett AquaSox. Until then, his world figures to remain a whirlwind.
White golfed with his dad on Monday morning, he said, “to take my mind off the draft a little bit. The draft went a lot better than my golf game did, because it was not a good day on the links.”
Better days await, in the sport he’s wired to play.