A Fan Shot by Alex
The Nats’ farm system started 2021 dead last in MLB Pipeline’s rankings before moving up ten spots by year’s end. This was largely due to their trade deadline acquisitions of players like Josiah Gray, Keibert Ruiz, and Gerardo Carrillo. However, they also executed a very promising and successful draft that included switch-hitting high school outfielder TJ White. White was one of three high school hitters drafted by the Nationals in the first five rounds of the 2021 draft, along with first-rounder Brady House and third-rounder Daylen Lile.
Taking multiple high school hitters in the early rounds is unusual for Mike Rizzo and the Nationals. Still, it was a welcomed change from a draft style (which heavily focused on college pitchers) that landed their farm system last in MLB Pipeline’s rankings to start the year. I had the pleasure of interviewing TJ via zoom last week to get to know him and learn more about the draft process, rookie ball, goals for the future, and more.
As a kid, TJ moved around a lot, spending five years in both Atlanta and Ohio before settling down in South Carolina, where he was living when drafted out of Dorman High School in Roebuck. For anyone moving around that much, it would be difficult to get noticed in the baseball world, but for TJ, moving around was how he got noticed.
He explained, “When I was in Ohio, I played for the Indiana Ironmen and in the summertime, we would go down south to Atlanta, where East Cobb was, and play at East Cobb’s facility. I think that’s where their coaches started to recognize me and when I got back down south, I started playing for them.”
The East Cobb Astros and Indiana Ironmen are nationally ranked baseball programs participating in tournaments across the country. These teams, along with the others he played for, like FTB Giants, Canes National, and the Tri-State Arsenal Scout Team, enter nationwide tournaments that are played in front of hundreds of collegiate and professional scouts. TJ didn’t receive a grade under 9 (out of 10) at a single showcase, and, as you can imagine, he was getting interest from major league teams by his junior year of high school.
Related Article: Washington Nationals Pitching Prospect Jackson Rutledge will be a Pitcher to watch in 2022
Due to the fickle nature of the draft, TJ had no idea how he stood up to the competition, saying, “you definitely go in blind, because they could be telling you you’re a 2nd or 3rd rounder, but then you slide to the 5th or 6th round, you just never know.”
After being drafted in the 5th round, TJ had to decide between his commitment to Indiana University and signing with the Washington Nationals. It was a difficult decision for him.
“Both of my parents are college educated, so education is a big deal in our household,” then explained, “once they realized that I had a chance to go pretty high in the draft, they kind of just let me make the decision.”
Every high schooler in the draft faces this dilemma and has different reasons. For TJ, being drafted in the 5th round was an opportunity too good to pass up.
Later, I asked TJ about rookie ball in the Florida Complex League; he was there from late August to mid-September, which caters to newly signed prospects giving them their first taste of professional baseball. TJ said the days in West Palm Beach, Florida, consisted of arriving at the facility early to eat breakfast and early workouts (whether in the cage or on-field), lunch, an afternoon game, and returning to a hotel. When I exclaimed, “That’s a lot of baseballs!” he chuckled and agreed.
Even “off days” meant more baseball. When they were not playing other FCL teams, they “play against each other and do live at-bats.” Baseball is life for these prospects, and playing it at all day hours is the best way to prepare them for the future.
TJ went on to talk about an Astros prospect (he could not recall his name) he faced in the FCL who reminded him of Tim Lincecum, and as you can imagine, it wasn’t an easy at-bat, saying “he threw mid to high 90’s and he hid the ball for so long and it just made it so tough.”. Making a disciplined hitter like TJ uncomfortable in the box is no small feat.
Although the rookie ball was a learning experience, TJ had outstanding numbers through 53 at-bats. He posted a .903 OPS, 11 runs, and four homers, including a two-home run game against the FCL Marlins in September 2021.
TJ White has high hopes for his 2022, telling me he wants to start the year in Low-A Fredericksburg, hit 20-25 homers, drive in 90-95 runs, and score 80-85 times by year’s end. A season like that would catapult him in the prospect rankings, and he has the pop to do it. White was given a 70-grade for his raw power from some Baseball America scouts on the 20-80 scale.
Although he still doesn’t know which level he’ll be starting the season at, he’ll almost certainly make it to Low-A at some point in 2022. When I asked if he had anything else to add, he thought about it for a moment and added, “Go Nats!”.