The layoff between the end of the Minor League season and the start of the Arizona Fall League campaign was shorter than ever in 2019. But for Mitchell White, baseball couldn't come back soon enough.
"I'm into the early start, for sure, just so you don't have to sit at home forever and then come back out here," White said from the Phoenix area this week. "I went home right away [and] had a little time at home, which, honestly, might have been bad. I kind of wish I went just straight through, but I took a few days off from throwing and then came right out here."
The ninth-ranked Dodgers prospect headed to his big league club's Spring Training home in Glendale for his assignment on the showcase circuit. From his final regular-season outing with Triple-A Oklahoma City on Aug. 31 to his first appearance for the Desert Dogs on Sept. 19, nearly three weeks had passed. His final line in that game against Peoria wasn't glamorous -- two earned runs, three hits, two walks, no strikeouts while recording just two outs. White was somewhat surprised by the scuffles as he had attempted to stay sharp by throwing over the break.
"That's what I tried to do," he said. "In practice, it didn't really work out too well. I was just talking about this in the 'pen with some guys. It's like you could be nasty one week and throw really well, and then come back with a ton of days of rest and you feel like you haven't pitched in forever, and you feel like an idiot out there. The three-week layoff, coming back from that almost feels like the first outing in Spring Training. It's weird.
"It's not like you feel lost out there. It hasn't been as long as the offseason, but it still feels new, feels weird."
On Oct. 5, the righty made his second appearance and was much better, retiring the side in order with a strikeout in one inning at Surprise. That rebound typifies what White has done throughout his short career.
Taken by the Dodgers in the second round of the 2016 Draft, White was brilliant in his debut season, not allowing an earned run over 22 frames. In 2017, the Santa Clara University product posted a 3-2 record with a 2.93 ERA in 19 starts between the Rookie-level Arizona League, Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Tulsa.
Last year back at Tulsa, the results weren't there. In 22 starts, White went 6-7 with a 4.53 ERA, striking out 88 while walking 34 in 105 1/3 innings. He also dealt with injuries, including arm soreness. During in his career, he's also dealt with a broken toe on his left foot and back issues. Heading back to Double-A to start 2019 provided White an opportunity to reintroduce himself. The Californian took advantage. White needed just seven starts to conquer the level, going 1-0 with a 2.10 ERA, a 0.83 WHIP and 37 strikeouts in 30 frames.
"I'd been in the Texas League for parts of three seasons at that point, and I definitely felt comfortable there," he said. "I had a great pitching coach in 'Bork' [Dave Borkowski]. He helped me a lot, and we just worked well together. I'd had success two years before that there and just kind of wanted to get back to that point, because last year was a little rough. All in all, it felt good to get through that and move pretty quick."
His big league potential reaffirmed, White was called up to Oklahoma City on May 14. From there, his transactions log reads like a hotel admissions list, with three trips on and off the injured list. Overall, his numbers reflected the struggle -- a 3-6 record and 6.50 ERA in 16 total appearances (13 starts). The culprit? Blisters on his pitching hand.
"It was definitely an up-and-down year, for sure," White said. "Getting to Triple-A at first, it was just not good at the start. Some of that, I guess, is the balls, but it's more just different. It's not better or worse with the ball thing. I think they're just different, and you've got to kind of get used to that.
"It definitely didn't help when I got some blisters too. The balls might have contributed with that a little bit just because they are so much harder and there's more resin on them. That kind of made it hard to get into a rhythm. I'd build up after coming back from the blister. It'd finally heal, and I'd go one inning, two innings, three innings, and then the blister would pop again and it would be one inning, two innings, three innings. I kind of went through that cycle a few times, but by the end of the season, I definitely felt like I was able to finish on a strong note. The last three outings, I kind of changed some stuff up and that definitely helped."
After a brutal start on July 26 in which the 24-year-old was charged with 11 runs on 12 hits in four innings against Memphis, White landed on the IL again. Upon his Aug. 15 return, he surged. He allowed three runs on five hits over eight innings across three starts, striking out 12 without issuing a walk.
"There's really nothing else to do but just do it," White said of giving injuries the time and care they demand. "There's no secret. It's frustrating, for sure, but there's nothing I could do about it. So I basically just took care of the treatment day by day, and as it got better, we got better at handling it, even though it kept coming back. By the end, we figured out a plan, and that felt good. At least we'd come somewhere with it. Obviously, it's not ideal, but now I have that in my bag if I need it, if I get blisters again."
Late in the season, word came that the Dodgers were assigning the 2016 second-round pick to the AFL, giving him another opportunity to bounce back.
"The idea for me was definitely to get a little experience in the bullpen because, potentially, that could be my role down the road and then also, because of those blisters, I missed a lot of innings," he said. "I didn't even realize how many innings, so I needed to build that count up, and those are the two main things that we're working on here."
Offseason MiLB include
In four pro seasons, White has pitched 75 games, just eight of them out of the bullpen. But with a talented rotation already in place at the Major League level and pitching prospects abounding in the Dodgers system, the righty is excited to expand his versatility.
"Pitching out of the 'pen is a great [opportunity]," he said. "I don't know if that's ever going to come up in the future, but it definitely could, and getting a little experience here will not hurt."
Although his workload has been limited to two appearances so far, White is focused on making the most of his time in Arizona.
"I'm kind of keeping with the same routine I had during the season," he said. "Obviously, I'm not going to be pitching as much; that's just kind of the nature of the Fall League. In terms of just working in between outings -- dry work, catch play, bullpens, whatever it is ... all of that, I'm keeping sharp."