If the Royals are considering a utility player to back up multiple positions this season, they should consider Eli White in the Rule 5 draft.
Eli White is the kind of player that Major League Baseball general managers have learned to value more and more as teams hold onto increasingly larger bullpens. The Royals, in particular, have seen the value of a player like White. He can play all over the field.
Other than catcher, Eli White has played nearly every position in the infield and outfield over his baseball career. And his glove has received generally good reviews at each spot. He is generally considered a shortstop that can play centerfield, but his glove translates well wherever a team needs him.
White is entering his age 26 season and has not yet received a call-up to the big leagues. He does not possess a lot of power, although his home run totals are increasing each season. Through his minor league career, he has mostly displayed doubles in the gap level strength. That paired with his above-average speed has also enabled him to hit 19 triples and 82 doubles over the last 3 seasons.
What Eli White does well, offensively, is get on base. He has hit over .275 during his minor league career. And, even when he has had a relatively down year with his batting average, he still maintains a nice walk rate. He has never walked in less than 8% of his plate appearances.
Even though Eli is not going to become a power hitter, he has managed to hit for enough extra-base hits to keep his Slugging Percentage over .400 throughout AA and AAA. And his speed would translate nicely into extra bases inside Kauffman Stadium.
If we are considering another signing like Chris Owings this offseason – first of all, don’t – rather than spend money on a free agent infielder that struggles to hit the ball, why not grab a younger player with more upside and versatility? White is the type of player that could be kept on a big-league roster simply by moving him around to different positions. Considering our outfield is currently one old guy that is over the hill and two young guys that struggle to even hit a ball down the hill, it would seem finding plate appearances for a super-utility guy should not be an issue.
Eli White may never be more than an Elliot Johnson type, a backup utility guy. But, as we have found with Whit Merrifield, sometimes these types of players can be late bloomers. This is a young player that can handle himself defensively wherever you need him. He knows how to get on base. The fact that he has increased his home run totals each season also suggests there is a chance for some real upside here. The Royals should consider taking that chance.