Oklahoma City RedHawks right-hander Alex White once was ranked among the top 100 prospects in the minor leagues, the centerpiece of the Rockies’ trade that sent Ubaldo Jimenez to the Indians.
Eighteen months later, White is simply trying to regain his arm strength after being sidelined the entire 2013 season soon after the Astros obtained the North Carolina University product in a December 2012 trade.
White, who will turn 26 later this week, was hoping to impress his new team in spring training, but the elbow wasn’t ready.
“Since it would have been a full year I thought I’d be near 100 percent, but it didn’t happen that quickly for me,” White said. “It’s forced me to be patient because early in the season it just wasn’t there.”
White, who will make his final home start Tuesday night at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark against Albuquerque, has compiled a deceptive 3-5 record with a 5.90 ERA with the RedHawks since he was activated in June.
More revealing, White in his last four starts is 2-1 with a 3.46 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 26 innings.
“That (Tommy John surgery) varies with each individual,” said Oklahoma City pitching coach Steve Webber. “Some guys never make it back to where they were. Some undergo a second surgery. Give him credit for staying the course. Now he’s through the worst part of it, and his stuff is starting to come back.”
White said it was frustrating his recovery took longer than anticipated, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
“When I first came back I was only throwing 86 (mph). I used to throw in the mid- to upper-90s,” White said. “It taught me how to pitch, how to get guys out when you’re not throwing as hard. It’s been a learning experience.”
A first-round pick, the 15th overall selection in the 2009 draft, White soared through the minors in the Indians system.
In his first two pro seasons, White notched a 2.34 ERA in nearly 200 minor league innings. He was roughed up with the Rockies in a late-season audition (2-4, 8.42 ERA) following the trade for Jimenez.
The following year, he split time between the majors and Colorado Springs, once again faring much better in Triple-A (3.71 ERA) than his 100 innings with the Rockies (2-9, 5.51). Colorado, though, implemented an unorthodox four-man rotation after trading for White.
“Those were just some rough times,” White said. “There was some frustration between some of the pitchers and the front office for doing some unprecedented things. I think it was tough on all of us physically and mentally. We really couldn’t get our feet wet and gain confidence.”
Still, White is grateful he’s made 30 big-league starts, compiling 140 Major League innings.
“Having some Major League experience under my belt allows me to be more patient, knowing I’ll get another opportunity,” White said. “I just need to work my way back to where I once was arm-strength-wise. I’m getting a lot closer.”
The Astros gave up only a mid-range prospect (Wilton Lopez) to obtain White, who once was viewed as one of the top arms in the minors.
“He has what we call pitchibility,” Webber said. “He’s pitched better the past few weeks. He has a good feel for it, getting his touch back. I’m curious to see how he finishes up.”
White said 58 innings with the RedHawks, plus a couple more starts, will benefit him when he reports to spring training two years after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
“We all understand we’re now looking as 2015 as the season to see where I’m really at,” White said. “It’s been great to get some strength back in my arm here late in the season. It’s helped give me some confidence heading into the offseason.”