In researching for my earlier today article on Derek Fisher, I noticed a guy at Fresno who could, at surface inspection, be an immediate improvement at DH for the Astros, while providing some positional versatility as well.
Full disclosure: I have been a Tyler White fan for years, after an astute cowriter pointed out his performance to me at high A Lancaster.
White is already proven-ish at the major league level, posting a line of .279/.328/.525 in 22 games with the World Series winning 2017 Astros, and held his own in 2016, particularly a blistering April that showed he is fully capable of handling major league pitching.
This season, regular DH Evan Gattis is really struggling. The nearly 32 year old is batting .186/.263/.279 with an unfortunattely sustainable .268 batting average on balls put in play (his career average BABIP is .272). No particular bad luck, here. His strikeout rate is 31%, up 10% from his career average. In short, he’s a mess.
Not that all is lost with Gattis – he has a proven track record of being an above-average performer. But how long can the Astros stomach their bottom-of-order hitting woes? Gattis is the obvious target for replacement, although an expensive write-off. Marwin Gonzalez is too valuable as a positional utility guy, and Jake Marisnick offers defensive chops, and Derek Fisher gives the Astros a sky-high upside and needs the opportunity to adjust to Major League pitchers to have a chance of reaching it.
Meanwhile, White currently is hitting .327/.449/.591 down at Fresno, with a 16% walk rate and 11% strikeout rate. No, those numbers aren’t directly converable to the major leagues, but projection systems think he can provide league average performance by wRC+ (something Gattis, Marisnick, Fisher, Marwin, and Alex Bregman are not doing).
He is also sitting sixth in the PCL with seven home runs, in only 30 games. That’s a lot of home runs.
Now, there are caveats, and those need to be addressed in the interest of full disclosure. White is 27 years old and in his fourth season at AAA – he should be lighting it on fire. If he were going full A.J. Reed or Jon Singleton, going gently into their own good-nights, it would be notable in the sense that maybe his former success was more flukey than not.
But White has always hit well, at every level of the minors, has always hit well at AAA, hit at a league-average level in his first exposure to the Major Leagues, and is still killing it. I want to see more of him in Houston.
Realistically speaking, sweeping away a struggling player with history of success such as Gattis after one weaksauce April is not necessarily smart roster management. Particularly with the financial considerations involved and typical lack of a trade market this early in the season. So the Astros can’t be criticized for dancing with who brung ’em for at least another month or more.
But come mid-June or so, if Gattis is continuing 2018 Gattis things, then the Astros need to pull the plug and go with a professional hitter in White who has not one iota left to prove in the minors.