UK’s White Brings Rare Athleticism To FirstFeatures
LEXINGTON, Ky. — On an unusually mild day in January, Evan White sat in the first base dugout at Kentucky’s Cliff Hagan Stadium and looked on as groundskeepers manicured the infield grass.
A lawn mower sat unattended near the first base bag, just feet away from where White has spent the past two seasons laying claim as one of the elite first basemen in college baseball. As a freshman, White was tasked with replacing Golden Spikes winner A.J. Reed, a massive 6-foot-4, 240-pounder who belted 23 home runs his junior season at Kentucky and swept every national award given in college baseball.
“A.J. Reed is definitely a different player than I was,” White said. “He hit 23 home runs the year before and I think I hit two my freshman year. Just sticking with your game and not worrying about other people and kinda do what you do and it’ll take care of itself. Help the team in the best way I can. That wasn’t going to be like A.J. hitting 23 home runs.”
No one will ever mistake the two physically — the lanky White is listed at 200 pounds in Kentucky’s media guide — but White, in different ways than Reed, has continued the lineage of excellent first basemen in Lexington. Not one, but two head coaches have ranked White among the elites at first base.
“We probably have the best first baseman in America,” former Kentucky coach Gary Henderson said prior to the Wildcats’ 2016 season. “His name is Evan White.”
This past October, new head coach Nick Mingione called White the best defensive first baseman he’s ever been around.
“He has a tremendous feel around the bag,” Mingione said. “He has this unique ability to know where first base is at all times. That might sound simple but it really comes into play when there are balls in the dirt. He has just awesome hand-eye coordination. The confidence that our infielders have him in there is through the roof.”
His bat isn’t too shabby either. White is a career .347 hitter with nine home runs and 68 RBIs. He was a second-team All-SEC selection as a sophomore and was honored as a Freshman All-SEC first baseman and All-Defensive team during his first season with the Wildcats.
That production and recognition led to a prestigious invitation to play with Team USA over the summer.
“It was a dream come true,” White said of the honor. “Everybody dreams of having the opportunity of representing their country. To go overseas and hear the national anthem playing in Taiwan, Japan and Cuba was an incredible feeling. You can’t really put words to how much it means to you.”
White — whose superb athleticism for a first baseman is rare — played outfield for Team USA. He hadn’t played outfield since high school, but Vanderbilt outfielder Jeren Kendall and former Nevada outfielder T.J. Friedl helped White with the transition. White was able to bounce ideas off of his teammates on the defensive and offensive end, which he was able to bring back to Lexington.
Another benefit of playing with Team USA is the amount of scouts who are able to watch players go up against some of the other most talented players in the world. For White, the question many scouts are still trying to figure out is where he will play at the professional level.
“It’s been interesting to see positionally,” White said. “Some guys obviously like me at first but like me in the outfield as well. It’s just going to be interesting to see what happens.”
The idea of moving White to the outfield is one Mingione flirted with during fall practice. White impressed the coaches with his range and strong arm from the outfield, but Mingione has decided to leave White at first base.
“After going through the fall and the early part of this spring, that’s where he’s going to play,” Mingione said. “When you start thinking about the psyche that plays into all of this, whether it be a pitcher or one of our infielders, they just have tremendous peace knowing he’s there. That’s really important for our ball club.”
For all that White has achieved during his collegiate career, he still hasn’t played in an NCAA regional. The Wildcats have finished the past two seasons on the bubble, falling just short of reaching the tournament both times. With this season likely being his last in Lexington, White has been working on his consistency to help Kentucky get back to postseason play.
“It’s something we set as a vision, especially this year,” White said. “We set it as a vision each year but we’ve really pounded in that we want to go to Omaha, we want to make that trip. Postseason baseball is, at least talking to people who have been there, is an incredible experience. Being able to work on that is huge. It’s definitely a vision and something we’ve been working toward. It would mean the world to actually go there and experience that.”