GSA Spotlight: LSU's Tommy White

Photo credit: LSU Athletics

STARKVILLE, Miss. — In the late innings of a tight game Saturday afternoon at Dudy Noble Field, Mississippi State wanted nothing to do with Tommy White. When White strolled to the plate with two outs in the seventh and men on first and second, the Bulldogs went ahead and intentionally walked him, even though it advanced both baserunners. Two innings later, they gave him another free pass. He received another on Sunday.

Sometimes that strategy works (Mississippi State struck out the next hitter on both occasions Saturday to extinguish the threats) and sometimes it backfires (White went on to score after getting a free pass Sunday). But one thing is certain: if you do choose to pitch to White, you’re playing with fire.

“I think we threw him three fastballs in the zone all weekend, and they all ended up in the Left Field Lounge,” Mississippi State coach Chris Lemonis said after the series.

By now, anyone who knows anything about college baseball is familiar with Tommy Tanks, who became an instant folk hero as a freshman at NC State, when he blasted 27 home runs and regularly went viral on social media for his feats of strength as well as his boisterous celebrations. That summer he became one of the highest-profile transfers in college baseball history, and he managed to live up to every bit of the hype in his sophomore campaign at LSU, hitting .377/.435/.729 with 24 homers, 24 doubles, 105 RBIs and a legendary 11th-inning homer against Wake Forest to send the Tigers to the CWS Finals. His prodigious power, his preternatural feel for hitting, and his flair for the dramatic all make him arguably the biggest star in college baseball.

But White has never been known for his defense (in part because his bat is so absurdly loud). He spent his freshman year DHing at NC State, and his desire to play third base was a major reason he entered the transfer portal. He fielded just .859 last year while playing through a shoulder injury that required surgery after the season, sidelining him for about six and a half months. Even though he couldn’t play in the summer and fall, he worked hard to become more agile and improve his defense.

“Just taking the offseason, worked on footwork, doing what I could do with the shoulder being the way it was in the offseason. So I was just doing what I could do and it’s showing up,” White said. “Just footwork, leg work, nothing special. It was always in me. I think last year it was tougher for me to be free on defense because of the shoulder, I couldn’t dive or do anything of that nature, so I had to play kind of timid last year, but this year I have full rein.”

And this weekend, he stood out for his defense as much as for his bat, which produced a home run in all three games in Starkville, followed by a homer in his fourth straight game Tuesday against Louisiana Tech. He made every play against Mississippi State, showing off excellent instincts and hands on hot shots, displaying quickness to both sides, making diving plays and tough body-control plays. On Saturday, he turned a crucial 5-3 double play that helped secure LSU’s 9-8 victory, fielding a chopper well behind the bag, then racing to the bag and making a strong throw across the diamond to first baseman Jared Jones for the out.

“His first step to come get the ball, and then catch, and get to his right foot immediately and throw off a strong right leg, hit Jared in the face,” LSU coach Jay Johnson said. “I mean, that was a very invasive and difficult surgery, so that just shows the desire to be better at third base. He came here because I told him he was going to play third base, and he has not let us down offensively for sure, and not defensively either. That was big-time. He had a great game defensively [Friday] night as well. He’s a complete player. For me, when you get a talented, competitive guy that’s super-motivated to do something that maybe people are unsure he can or can’t do, he’s done everything I’ve asked him to do. And to be this good, with missing six and a half months of baseball, real credit to him.

“It’s his first step, quickness, improved his body. Some of that was, he couldn’t lift a ton with the shoulder injury, but he did a great job with his nutrition, he’s in really good shape as you can tell. He’s got plenty of strength to drive the ball, he hits it harder than anybody in the country, but his ability to move has really helped him at third.”

The nickname “Tommy Tanks” has always fit White as much because he is built like a tank as because he hits lots of tanks. He’s a thick guy — but he has become noticeably leaner as a junior this year (he’s now listed at 6-foot-1, 228 pounds, down from a listed weight of 242 as a freshman and 236 as a sophomore), and it has translated to defensive excellence. He has made just one error through 22 games this spring, and his range is significantly improved.

“Just looking like an athlete,” White said. “Playing like an athlete, looking like an athlete — that’s what my goal was, just to maintain all the gains I made in the offseason, and just keep a steady course.”

White actually got off to a modest start offensive this spring, by his standards anyway. He hit just two home runs in LSU’s first 18 games before going deep in the last four games in a row. White didn’t have any interest in talking about the reasons for his offensive surge, dismissing it as just part of the ebbs and flows of a long baseball season. But he was a hard-contact machine all weekend, driving the ball to the opposite field with authority as he always has, but also ripping home runs to left and center. He’s now hitting .348/.433/.596 with six homers, 21 RBIs and more walks (10) than strikeouts (nine) through 104 plate appearances this year.

“He’s locked in [at the plate],” Johnson said. “We’ve worked pretty hard the last few days, and all the credit is to him, but this is what makes a great hitter a great hitter – and don’t forget he missed seven months — but you can get to an adjustment, and they can do it quickly. And we got to the right adjustment, and he’s done it immediately and he’s the most competitive human being in the box that you’ll ever see. And he’s so talented that it was only a matter of time.” is your online home for college baseball scores, schedules, standings, statistics, analysis, features, podcasts and prospect coverage.