So much for the science of baseball, launch angle and all that jazz.
Just listen to Eli White explain how he made adjustments at the plate that have made him this week’s Rangers’ candidate for rookie outfield hitting sensation.
“If I felt like I was on time, then I was late,” White said this week before hitting a pair of homers at Houston on Wednesday. “When I’m struggling, I feel like I’m starting on time. So, trying to start things earlier helps to kind of clean some things up mechanically. It helps me see the ball longer and find the barrel more often.”
Got that? On time is late. Early is on time.
Baseball in the 21st century, man.
Anyway, it makes perfect sense to him. And it has paid dividends since the Rangers recalled him from Triple-A Round Rock 10 days ago and decided to commit real playing to him. With his two homers at Houston — the first two of his career — White is 5 for 17 with four walks for a .294/.429/.765/1.193 OPS. Four of his five hits have gone for extra bases.
He’s started five of the Rangers’ seven games since being recalled, including four straight. It’s the first time in his brief career, which included 19 games in 2020 and the first five weeks of this season, that he’s started as many as four consecutive games.
There is good reason to play him. White turns 27 on June 26. He had 117 major league at-bats before Thursday. He belongs squarely in the group of guys about whom the Rangers need to make long-term decisions. The Rangers acknowledged as much when they released Khris Davis to return White to the roster.
Part of the problem had been the Rangers weren’t really sure how or where to play him. They acquired White from Oakland as an infielder who dabbled in a bit of outfield work. The Rangers, always looking for versatility, upped the outfield work in the minors to the point it became his primary position. It also put him in a crowded group. Ahead of him in 2020 were Nick Solak, who was being groomed for outfield work, Leody Taveras and Willie Calhoun. Yet, by the end of the year, White stood out as perhaps the best defensive center field option the Rangers had.
And so he was an outfielder.
But it also limited his opportunities. The Rangers went into 2021 with a plan to split center field between White and Taveras. White’s at-bats were irregular. When he was sent down in May, the Rangers decided to switch gears again and add the infield back to the mix. Of the 16 games he started in Round Rock, nine were in the infield. Most important, though, he was in the lineup every day. It also allowed him a little time to regroup as a hitter and to force his brain to accept the change in when he started his swing movements.
“Confidence plays a big part in it,” White said. “Just stepping in the box and knowing you have confidence in yourself is big. You get to knowing that you can succeed, instead of trying not to fail, was important. That had a lot to do with it. And playing regularly allowed me to get in a rhythm, to just get consistent with the timing issues. Those two things helped out a lot.”
Reliever acquired: The Rangers picked up yet another hard-throwing Los Angeles Dodgers castoff reliever Thursday, acquiring sinkerballer Dennis Santana in a trade for minor league lefty Kelvin Bautista. Bautista, who turns 22 on July 7, had been at the Rangers’ extended spring training camp in Arizona.
Santana, 25,was optioned to Triple-A Round Rock after being acquired. He had been designated for assignment by the Dodgers over the weekend. He had a 6.42 ERA over 32 relief outings in parts of the last four seasons. The Rangers already have two former Dodgers in their bullpen: Rule 5 pick Brett de Geus and Josh Sborz, who was designated for assignment by Los Angeles to make room for Trevor Bauer.
To make room on the 40-man roster, the Rangers designated left-hander Hyeon-jong Yang for assignment. Yang, 33, had been optioned to Round Rock on Wednesday when the Rangers activated Ian Kennedy from the IL. The hope is that Yang would clear waivers and then go to Round Rock to work as a starter. Yang had a 5.59 ERA for the Rangers in eight games but had been used infrequently since being moved out of the starting rotation at the end of May.