PROSPECT REVIEW: T.J. WHITE
Age on opening day 2024: 20
How acquired: Drafted in fifth round in 2021 from Paul M. Dorman High School in Roebuck, S.C.
Ranking: No. 27 per MLB Pipeline, No. 16 per Baseball America
MLB ETA: 2025
* Projected by MLB Pipeline
Signing bonus: $400,000
2023 levels: High-A Wilmington
2023 stats: 77 G, 286 PA, 247 AB, 23 R, 42 H, 5 2B, 2 3B, 6 HR, 25 RBIs, 0 SB, 2 CS, 35 BB, 104 SO, .170 AVG, .277 OBP, .279 SLG, .557 OPS
Quotable: “I think that’s where right now they can see he can get more at-bats. It’s also a tool for him to be able to move across the minor leagues. Somebody who can play first base, play in the outfield. We know that he can play in the corners in the outfield. So now developing him to play first base, it will help him out to get where he needs to be.” – Wilmington manager Mario Lisson on White’s move from outfield to first base this season
2023 analysis: After being a fifth-round draft pick out of high school in 2021, White cracked MLB Pipeline’s top 30 Nats prospect rankings by the end of last year with a strong campaign at Single-A Fredericksburg.
In his age-18 season, White slashed .258/.353/.432 with a .784 OPS, 20 doubles, two triples, 11 homers and 52 RBIs while stealing eight bases in nine attempts over 92 games with the FredNats. He played 86 games in the outfield, all coming in left.
That gave the Nationals high hopes for his season this year. But there was one problem: He was now near the bottom of a large group of outfield prospects
So the organization made the decision to move him to first base coming into spring training, a position where they have very little minor league depth. The idea was that his 6-foot-2, 210-pound frame would be a good fit at first, where they could keep his bat in the lineup and he had the best chance to advance up the system.
In theory, it was a good idea for both sides. In practice, it didn’t work out exactly how they would have liked.
White struggled in 77 games with Wilmington during his first stint in High-A ball. He slashed a paltry .170/.277/.279 with a .557 OPS, 13 extra-base hits (including six homers) and 25 RBIs while not recording a stolen base and being caught stealing twice (although he is not known for his speed).
In 286 plate appearances, he struck out 104 times (36.4 percent) and walked only 35 times (12.2 percent).
Defensively, he was sound in his first taste of playing first base. He committed 13 errors (only four more than last year in left field) with a .975 fielding percentage (20 percentage points higher than his 2022 fielding percentage in left) in 520 ⅔ innings (about 220 fewer than last year).
But the poor offensive output led to the Nationals placing White on the development list in late August as he missed the last three weeks of the season.
2024 outlook: The move to first base made a lot of sense for White entering the season. With the outfield depth and lack of first basemen on the Nats farm, it gave him a better opportunity to advance up the organizational ladder.
“The bat is his No. 1 tool,” Lisson said of White during the first week of Wilmington's season. “We just want to make sure that that glove is close enough so he can help us on both sides of the game.”
Unfortunately, not only was White’s bat not his No. 1 tool this year, it became so much of a hindrance to himself and the Blue Rocks that the Nats essentially shut him down before the season ended.
White is still really young, having just turned 20 in July, and he's moved up a level every year since the Nats drafted him. With the move to first, he is one of only two first baseman listed in MLB Pipeline’s top 30 Nats prospect rankings, along with Roismar Quintana, who will be 21 entering next season and hasn’t advanced past Single-A Fredericksburg.
But no matter how well White adjusts to first, if his bat can’t come along next year, it will be hard to see him making any significant advancement as a top prospect.