With the 2021 season coming to a close, we are going to look back at the year that was for members of the Texas Rangers. The season isn’t over yet, of course, but there are a number of players who are on the injured list or otherwise won’t be playing the rest of the way, so we can start by looking at those guys whose seasons are done, and once the season is over we can include guys who are still in action.
Today we are looking at outfielder/infielder Eli White.
It was a...let’s say, tumultuous, year for Eli White in 2021. For the second spring in a row White had a strong spring training, and in a year dedicated to rebuilding, he made the Opening Day roster, beating out Delino DeShields and being announced by Chris Woodward as a starting outfielder, along with Leody Taveras. Woodward showed his commitment to “Leody and Eli are both starters” by having Eli White start at DH on Opening Day, with David Dahl in left field, Leody in center and Joey Gallo in right field. The decision to put White, whose biggest asset is his defense, at DH Opening Day seemed curious and earned Woodward a certain amount of derision from some quarters.
White had a two hit game in the opener in Kansas City, and then did very little for the next month. White went 4 for 21 in his next seven games, which is bad, and then followed that up with a 1 for 30 stretch, which made that 4 for 21 look like a hot streak. White was optioned when Khris Davis was activated from the injured list on May 8, a move that surprised me somewhat at the time since that left the Rangers with no backup center fielder (Leody Taveras have been optioned some time previously).
White was recalled the next day when Kohei Arihara went on the injured list, sat on the bench, and then was optioned once again on May 14 to open up a spot for Wes Benjamin.
Once White finally joined Round Rock, he, much to our surprise, actually hit. Over a twenty game stretch for Round Rock, White slashed .343/.450/.537 in 80 plate appearances, with 12 walks against 20 Ks. I think the expectation was that White would stay down in Round Rock for a while, but on June 8, the Rangers pulled the trigger and DFA’d Khris Davis, opening up a roster spot that was filled by Eli White.
And White continued to hit! It was, again, not entirely expected, but White credited adjustments he made in Round Rock at the plate and looked like an entirely new hitter, slashing .277/.347/.477 in 72 plate appearances in the month of June.
Alas, it was not to last. In the pre-ASB portion of July, White slumped, slashing .156/.206/.250. After the Break, White continued to play regularly but also continued to slump, slashing .109/.245/.283 with 17 Ks in 54 plate appearances. White landed on the injured list in early August with an elbow issue that ultimately necessitated elbow brace surgery to repair the UCL in his right elbow in September, costing him the rest of the season and sidelining him until February.
So a season that saw White in the Opening Day lineup at DH saw him get sent to Round Rock in May after an abysmal offensive performance, return and hit well for a period of time, then crater offensively again before having surgery that could have him not quite ready to go when spring training starts in 2022. Not what anyone was hoping for, I think.
White is...I don’t want to say polarizing, because that suggests that there are some huge Eli White fans out there, but there is a good chunk of the Rangers fanbase that thinks he has no business every being in a major league uniform. There are also those — and I fit in this category — who see him as having a skill set that has some value and the potential to hit well enough to give him some value.
White is fast, is considered a terrific defensive outfielder, can play all the infield positions, and thus would be a very useful role player if he hits a little bit. Its that “hits a little bit” that has been the problem. The frustrating part about that is that when the Rangers acquired White from Oakland prior to the 2019 season, he was a viewed as a guy with a good hit tool who had questions about his power and future defensive position. BA said at the time that White was “the best pure hitter in Oakland’s system” with “strong plate discipline” and “a plus hit tool.” Now he’s a speed and defense guy who has a career .179/.254/.293 slash line in 272 major league plate appearances, and whose xwOBA of .251 was actually worse than his .253 wOBA in 2021.
The Rangers will have to make a decision on White this offseason — do they want to carry him on a 40 man roster with a lot of tough calls to make, or do they want to move on? White has options remaining, is most likely two years away from arbitration, and his ability to play a number of positions and be moved up and down provides value as AAA depth, aside from the potential upside the team appears to see in his bat. On the other hand, he turns 28 in June, he had elbow surgery early this month, and there’s potentially other ways to use a 40 man roster spot that would offer more value.
My guess is that White sticks on the 40 man all offseason, though it wouldn’t surprise me if they waived him and tried to outright him, or else non-tendered him and then looked to re-sign him to a minor league deal.