Blue Jays prospect followers would be forgiven for not knowing Ben White‘s name before this season. An undrafted free agent signed by the Blue Jays out of Temple University in 2011, White pitched the past two years in Vancouver, with fairly mediocre statistics to show for it.
2013 has been a completely different story for the Parkesburg, Pennsylvania native. White’s become the most consistent starting pitcher for the Lansing Lugnuts, the Blue Jays Class-A affiliate in the Midwest League. The 24 year old has a 3.81 ERA, a 1.394 WHIP and a 2.14 K/BB ratio in a team-leading 127 2/3 innings pitched.
I first met Ben on my first trip to Lansing in early May and only was able to speak briefly with him when I returned last week. We didn’t get to sit down for a formal interview, so Ben was kind enough to respond via email to some questions that I sent to him.
If you want to find out more about Ben White, please read Brian Crawford’s excellent (and thorough) article on Jaysprospects.com and you can also visit the Blue Jays from Away Podcast Episode 15 to hear Lugnuts pitching coach Vince Horsman talk about Ben (amongst other prospects over in Lansing).
Blue Jays from Away: When did you know you wanted to be a pitcher? What appealed to you about pitching? What’s your favourite thing about it?
Ben White: Well I always loved pitching, and have been ever since I was able to in little league. I realized that if my career was going to go any further after High school that is was going to be as a pitcher because I was not what you would call a threat at the plate. Hell, I set the career record for sacrifice bunts in high school and it took me just one season to do it! I love having the game in my hands. The ability to control its pace and keep your team in it is a powerful one and I’m confident I can always give my team a chance to win.
BJfA: Pitching for Temple University, was getting to play baseball professionally your ultimate goal? Were you equally focused on academics or more focused on baseball? What did you study at Temple?
BW: I have always wanted to play professionally for as long as I can remember. I knew I was not going to be drafted out of high school and was going to go to college so Temple was a great option for me. Winning was the main objective in college and the whole possibility of playing professionally never really raised its head until my senior year. Academics were important of course, I have always done well in school and was prepared to go into the work world if baseball didn’t work out. I actually was setting up interviews for the weeks after the draft just in case things didn’t work out on draft day. My degree was in Political Science with minors in Business and History.
BJfA: Did you know the Blue Jays were scouting you in college? Was it an easy decision to sign the free agent contract after you finished college?
BW: I did know that the Blue Jays liked me in college. I talked to my area scout a few times throughout the year during my senior year of school and they came to a few games. I figured they would be one of the few teams that would take me in the draft. The decision to sign with them was the easiest one I have ever made. They called about 2 minutes after the draft and told me they wanted me and I had been coming up in the draft room for them. I told them I would sign and that was it. I was called by the Mariners and the Pirates as well, but I had already signed with the Jays and couldn’t have been happier.
BJfA: Does not being drafted drive you even more to succeed?
BW: Not being drafted definitely is a catalyst. Knowing that 1500 people were picked before you is something that I take to heart. It does make you work harder and demand more out of yourself. It makes me earn everything I get, nothing is handed over easily and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
BJfA: What have you found the differences to be in the quality of opposition you’ve faced as you’ve progressed through the Blue Jays’ system?
BW: I gotta be honest, I think hitters in this league are just a little more disciplined. Reality is though, I didn’t do as well in the lower levels as I should have and then got to Lansing, and had my epiphany working with our pitching coach Vince Horsman on what my game is and how to pitch to my strengths. When you know yourself, it makes it that much easier to trust yourself and execute a game plan.
BJfA: What was it like starting the season as a reliever and then transitioning into a starting role this season?
BW: Starting as a reliever was all new to me. I had never done it but knew I could adapt. The bullpen is a whole different beast. Throwing back to back days and things like that; my arm had never experienced that kind of work load, but I liked it. The transition back to starter was not a bad one at all. Getting back into the 5 day routine and all was great and I think it was a great change for everyone. It’s nice to have your own game every week, to go out and win or go out and lose, I earn the result.
BJfA: What types of pitches do you throw? What do you consider your main weapons against hitters?
BW: I throw fastballs, sinkers, change ups, sliders, and curve balls. I think my best out pitch is my curve ball but especially this year, the key to my season has been commanding my fastball. I get ahead of hitters and will throw any pitch in any count. I think my biggest weapon is the ability to work ahead and get to my swing and miss stuff late.
BJfA: What do you feel you need to work on towards the end of this season and going into the next one?
BW: I definitely need to gain more and weight and get stronger. I know I may look like an athletic specimen (said no one), but this 6’2 180 lb frame needs to get stronger. If I can get a couple more mph on my fastball, I think it would greatly benefit my career. My goal this off season will be to gain 15 lbs and lose body fat.
BJfA: Bonus Question (Trivia Time): How many players have made the major leagues that were drafted out of Temple University?
[Actual answer (from Baseball Reference): 5 – Higginson, Marzano and Manto were the last three. Pete Filson, a left-handed pitcher drafted by the Yankees in 1979, and Joe Kerrigan , a righty drafted by the Expos in 1974, were the others. Higginson is by far the best with 23 career rWAR. Filson was the second amassing a 2.7 rWAR over 148 major league games]