Friday on the Farm: Owen White could be on the verge of joining Texas Rangers’ group of top pitching prospects
The excitement level within the Texas Rangers organization for the return of Ricky Vanasco is a 12 on a scale of 1-10.
He is healthy and pitching in the fall instructional league. He was the scheduled starting pitcher Friday at TCU as an instructs team ended its four-game stretch against Texas college teams.
Vanasco has hit triple digits. The vertical movement on his four-seamer and changeup are elite. His slider is another plus offering, and there might not be a pitcher in the system who wants to punish an opposing hitter as badly as Vanasco does.
The Rangers’ top prospect, 2021 No. 2 overall pick Jack Leiter, has that and plus stuff. Cole Winn, the 2018 first-round and the Rangers’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year, has a smaller dose of mound nastiness and four quality pitches.
That trio of right-handers are the best in the system. Leiter and Winn are two of the best in baseball. Vanasco could join them in the top 100 next season.
The rest of the prospects aren’t in the same class. One, though, could soon be.
It’s another righty coming off of injury, Owen White. Hitters in the Arizona Fall League might say White has made the Rangers’ threesome a foursome.
He’s been that good.
“We’ve got very high grades on him internally,” assistant general manager Ross Fenstermaker said. “He’s got the right demeanor also. He’s a competitive guy, and he’s got the stuff to match. It’s power on power.”
White tossed five scoreless innings Wednesday for the second time in three starts in the Arizona Fall League. He allowed two runs in five innings in the other start, leaving his ERA at 1.20.
He has pumped his four-seam fastball up to 99 mph, but sat 93-95 mph in his Fall League debut Oct. 15. The five scoreless innings in that one earned him AFL Pitcher of the Week honors.
The goal is for White to get 30 innings in Arizona to get him back on track after missing much of the regular season with a broken hand in the season-opener. It was a self-inflicted injury, as he punched the ground following a throwing error.
“I jumped up and hit the ground like kind of a Hulk smashed,” said White, who takes full responsibility for his mistake. “It’s not just hurting myself. It’s hurting everybody around me, hurting the organization, it gives everybody kind of a bad look. I let myself down more than anything.”
The injury proved to be a false start in his comeback from Tommy John surgery in 2019 after being selected in the second round of the 2018 draft. He was 18 when selected the round after Winn, and is 22 now.
Winn ascended to Triple A Round Rock this season. Leiter tossed 110 innings for Vanderbilt and pitched the Commodores to their only win in the College World Series finals.
White, when he was healthy, pitched at Low A Down East.
However, Fenstermaker believes the Fall League is equivalent to High A- or Double A-level competition. Some of the top prospects in baseball and players who are on MLB 40-man rosters are playing in Arizona.
A strong fall for White could have him moving quickly in 2022, say opening at High A Hickory and hoping for a strong start and an early bump to Double Frisco.
It would be a path similar to the one left-hander Cole Ragans took in 2021 after two Tommy John operations. White, though, will have some innings to catapult him into 2022, whereas Ragans hadn’t pitched in a non-instructs game since 2017.
Ragans is with White in the group a notch below Leiter, White and Vanasco. Right-handers A.J. Alexy and Glenn Otto, who made their MLB debuts in August, are also in that group.
TK Roby, who was also scheduled to face TCU, is in there, and so is fellow righty Dane Acker. Roby missed much of the season with a sprained elbow that did not require Tommy John surgery, but Acker wasn’t so lucky.
Acquired in the Elvis Andrus trade, Acker likely won’t pitch until late next season.
“You could argue he was the best pitching prospect we had in our system based on what we saw in spring training,” Fenstermaker said.
White is making headway in the system after missing 2019, 2020 (because of the COVID shutdown) and much of 2021. He’s thrilled to be in the Fall League, where he has been one of the best pitchers in Arizona.
It’s his launching pad for 2022.
“I finally get to go out and do what I was drafted for,” White said. “I have no doubt that we’ll have a full season. We’ll build up this offseason to come to spring training training and be ready to go when the season comes.”
Jeff Wilson, firstname.lastname@example.org