JAMIE H. VAUGHT: Baseball Star Evan White Helping the Wildcats Reach Top 5 National Ranking
Evan White (pictured) is one of the big reasons why Kentucky is a baseball powerhouse this spring, ranking among the Top 5 teams in the nation. The Wildcats are currently No. 4 in D1Baseball.com and No. 5 in USA Today Coaches Poll. NCAA’s RPI has UK higher at No. 3.
With White -- a preseason All-American who is one of the country’s top two-way players at first base -- and his teammates sparking the Wildcats to a remarkable 31-14 worksheet overall, Kentucky is now among the winningest SEC squad with a 14-7 league mark, tying Mississippi State and Auburn for the overall conference lead. The Wildcats have a one-game lead over second-place Florida in the SEC East Division going into this weekend’s home series with Georgia.
The 6-3, 205-pound White said this season has been a memorable one so far. Asked what has been his favorite memory as a Wildcat so far, White said, "There are a ton of great memories. We continue to make them. I look forward to continuing making these great memories and runs. Being able to come out and beat guys like LSU at home and stuff like that. I can't single out a specific memory, but we've had a lot of them.”
Even though the junior first baseman from Gahanna, Ohio, missed 13 games earlier this season due to injuries, White is leading UK with a .387 batting average in 32 games. In Kentucky’s 9-4 win over South Carolina in Columbia this past Sunday, White slammed a two-run home run.
In addition, his hitting average, by the way, would have been good enough for No. 3 in the SEC (just ahead of UK’s Tristan Pompey who is batting .373), but hasn’t played a minimum of 75 percent of team’s games to qualify for conference ranking at this point.
White now has 202 career hits, tying him with Antone DeJesus (2005-07) for 15thon UK’s all-time career hit list.
And he arguably is considered SEC’s best defensive first baseman.
Last season, White was spectacular on the field as a sophomore, hitting a team-high .376, which is the 11th best mark in UK history. He also was named to the All-SEC Defensive team for the second time.
White, who bats right-handed but throws left-handed, recently was chosen to the midseason watch list for the 2017 USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award, which honors the top amateur baseball player in the nation.
“It's definitely a big honor,” said White of the Golden Spikes Award’s Watch List. “A lot of great guys have been on the list -- a lot of great players. But it's something I try not to think about. I just try to go out there and take it one pitch at a time.”
It certainly helps that White comes from a baseball family. He grew up with immediate relatives who played college or minor league baseball, including his father, grandfather and uncle. The latter two played in the Cincinnati Reds organization.
The 2014 All-Ohio Baseball Player of the Year who starred at Gahanna Lincoln High School near Columbus, White is a huge fan of first baseman Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds. White wears No. 19 on his Wildcat jersey because his dad had the same number in high school and Votto currently wears it.
"I'm definitely a big Joey Votto fan,” said White. “I love the way he plays the game. I love the way he makes adjustments at the plate.
“Defensively, obviously, he's great as well. The number 19 is something that my dad wore, and I knew (former UK All-SEC outfielder) Austin Cousino from back home (in Ohio). It was kind of to keep the number in Columbus, and it was Joey Votto's number."
Why did he pick UK after his stellar high school career?
"I fell in love with it as soon as I stepped on campus,” White explained. “Being able to play in the best conference in the country is a dream come true, so that's what brought me to Lexington."
It is projected White will be a high draft selection in MLB Draft next month.
Asked about the draft, White said, “It's kind of the same deal as the Golden Spikes. You recognize it and it's awesome to have that recognition, but it's like I said to just take it one pitch at a time.”
According to UK baseball media guide, there have been only five Kentucky
standouts who were chosen either first or second round in the MLB Draft. They were Joe Blanton in 2002 (first round, 24th overall), James Paxton in 2009 (first round, 37th overall), Alex Meyer in 2011 (first round, 23rd overall), AJ Reed in 2014 (second round, 42th overall) and Kyle Cody in 2015 (second round, 73rd overall).
Baseball America recently posted a list of 2017 Top 100 MLB Draft Prospects, which also includes high school stars. The publication has listed White at No. 65.
If that’s the case, White will be a second-round pick since the third round begins with a No. 76 pick by the Minnesota Twins.
Pretty good, huh?
And it would be even sweeter if White and his Wildcat teammates continue winning tough SEC games with a trip to the NCAA Super Regionals or College World Series.
Needless to say, things are moving along really well for White and UK baseball.
Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is the editor of KySportsStyle.com magazine and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. You can follow him on Twitter @KySportsStyle or reach him via e-mail at KySportsStyle@gmail.com.
Photo by UK Athletics