Pittsburgh Pirates outfield prospect Lonnie White Jr. is having a strong 2023 campaign, but should he start to climb prospect boards yet?
One of the multiple highly touted high school prospects the Pittsburgh Pirates selected in the 2021 draft was outfielder Lonnie White Jr. After missing a good chunk of 2021 and 2022 because of injury and being limited to just 40 plate appearances, the young outfielder has finally gotten a chance at an extended look. White Jr. has been outstanding thus far, but should he be a top-100 prospect?
White Jr. started out the year at the Pirates’ Florida Complex League affiliate, where he hit .317/.434/.444. He walked in 14.5% of his plate appearances while swiping six bags in eight attempts. While he didn’t hit for much power, going yard just once and having a .127 ISO, and struck out in 25% of his plate appearances, White still had a healthy .427 wOBA and 137 wRC+ in 76 plate appearances. Following that great performance, the Pirates sent White Jr. to Low-A Bradenton, where he has become an even more productive hitter.
Through his last 153 plate appearances, White Jr. is slashing .256/.405/.456 with a .416 wOBA, and 147 wRC+. The power is starting to show up in games for White, as he currently has a .223 isolated slugging percentage and has six home runs thus far. Not only has White been a power threat, but he’s continued to be a threat on the basepaths with ten stolen bases in 11 attempts. White is now striking out 28.1% of the time, but he’s also upped his walk rate to 17%.
White is very close to becoming a five-tool prospect. His athleticism is off the charts, and he’s one of the best runners in the Pirates’ system. He also has enough raw power generated from his bat speed to be a potential 20-30 home run threat. In terms of fielding, White might win some Gold Gloves in the future. His arm is not the strongest, but it’s average, and it plays well out of center field. The one area that White Jr. is lacking in is his hit tool.
FanGraphs and MLB Pipeline agree that his hit tool projects as a 40-grade tool. On the 20-80 scale, that is below average. Granted, it’s not as if every top 100 prospect has a hit tool that projects as Tony Gwynn, but 40 puts into question just how effective his raw power will be if he can’t make contact consistently.
As of right now, it would be hard to make a case for White Jr. to be a top 100 prospect. The hit tool is a real uncertainty. It could be the difference from him being a bench 4th outfielder and a quality regular. However, do I believe that White Jr. possesses the potential to crack top 100 status eventually? I think there’s a possibility it will happen. Remember that White Jr. was one of the younger players in the 2021 draft. He’s still only 20 years old, won’t turn 21 until the very last day of the year, and is playing his first full season as a pro ball player.
White Jr. is far from a finished product. Sure, White is struggling with some strikeouts now, but in a few years, when he’s 22 or 23, he might have improved enough to get average, or at least fringe-average reviews for his hitting ability. I think the athleticism and talent are there for White to improve the weakest part of his game.
If and or when Lonnie White Jr. can improve his hit tool, I think you might be looking at a five-tool prospect. Very few five-tool prospects get left off top 100 lists, especially ones who have Gold Glove potential, and their ceiling is a 30/30 threat. While only time will tell if he can do so, I believe he can.