High School Sports

Books or big bucks? For state’s top baseball prospect, why it’s college vs. MLB money

Owen White, a 6-foot-4, 195-pound senior at China Grove’s Carson High and the top player in North Carolina, has thrown a baseball 90 mph.
Owen White, a 6-foot-4, 195-pound senior at China Grove’s Carson High and the top player in North Carolina, has thrown a baseball 90 mph. Langston Wertz Jr.

Casey White says there was never one day, or a specific moment, she knew her son was going to be a potential seven-figure Major League Baseball draft signee. But she does specifically remember a time, two years ago, when Owen White’s life began to quickly change.

White was pitching for the South Charlotte Panthers summer-league travel team at UNC Charlotte. When the game was over, one of the Panthers coaches walked toward Casey White and said, “Whelp, your son’s not a virgin anymore. He hit 90 today.”

White, now a 6-foot-4, 195-pound senior at China Grove’s Carson High and the state’s top player, has thrown a baseball 90 mph. That’s high velocity for a high school player. Efastball.com, which tracks pitch velocity at all age levels, says a Major League pitcher will average 91 mph. White had done it as a 15-year-old.

Today, White is ranked as the nation’s No. 28 high school Major League Prospect by Athlon Sports, a media group that tracks recruiting in major sports, and there’s a chance that he could go in the early rounds of the Major League Draft in June, potentially receiving a million dollar signing bonus.

China Grove Carson pitcher Owen White, a Major League draft prospect, can throw a fastball more than 90 miles per hour. Langston Wertz Jr. lwertz@charlotteobserver.com

Already, 25 of the 30 Major League teams have come to China Grove to visit White’s home. He said the Royals and Dodgers have visited the most. What intrigues the teams is a big, strong right-hander who can now throw 95 miles per hour. Last season, White was 8-1 with 94 strikeouts and an 0.33 ERA. He’s 1-0 this season with seven strikeouts in four innings with no runs allowed.

“Those (Major League) teams,” White said, “they express a lot of interest. No (contract) numbers have been thrown out. And I don’t expect that nor do I have any number set out for myself. I’m just a high school baseball player right now working my way to college.”

White has accepted a full scholarship to play at South Carolina. Full scholarships for baseball players are not commonplace – the 299 NCAA Division I teams divide 11.7 scholarships among a maximum of 27 players – but White is not your common player.

He comes from a family of athletes. His three sisters all played or are playing college volleyball or softball. His mother, Casey, is in Pfeiffer College’s Hall of Fame after she was named the school’s female athlete of the year in 1995.

His father, Tim, was a three-sport star at West Rowan High who once played with the legendary Howard’s Furniture professional softball teams from Denver, N.C. Tim White, who stands 6-7, grew 4 inches after high school.

“Man, my whole family is competitive,” Owen White said. “I’m a competitive person. It runs in the blood.”

The White family is also large. Every summer, they rent two houses in Myrtle Beach and take more than 40 relatives.

“Owen would rather hang out at home and play (the card game) Uno with his nephews and cousins,” Casey White said. “Our family is very, very tight knit. I don’t think he shuns his friends at school or his athletic buddies, but on Friday nights, if he’s not playing ball, he’s coyote hunting, fishing, playing (the video game) Fortnite. And he’ll get up Saturday morning, if his sister is playing volleyball at UNC Wilmington, and goes with the family to watch her play.

“A lot of 17- and 18-year-old boys would be like, ‘I ain’t going.’ But he knows they support him, too.”

Owen White is often accompanied by his 5-year-old niece, and he has a nephew who was born recently in Savannah, Ga. The family went there for the birth, but Owen was sick and stood outside the hospital room and peered inside. Feeling better the next week, he drove back to Savannah to hold the baby.

Until this year, White was a three-sport star at Carson. Though he attracted college attention as the school’s quarterback, he gave up football to focus on weightlifting and getting stronger. He added 15 pounds.

White stuck with basketball and finished his career with 951 points last week. After most home games, he would stay to shoot baskets with Carson basketball coach Brian Perry’s 10-year-old son.

Owen White is “one of the best I’ve ever coached. ... And on top of all that, he’s a good kid,” says China Grove Carson baseball coach Chris Cauble. Langston Wertz Jr. lwertz@charlotteobserver.com

“But that’s just who Owen is,” said Carson baseball coach Chris Cauble. “Kids know he’s special, and some look at him a little different. But end of the day, he’s just Owen White.”

Sure enough, after many baseball games, long after the fans have gone, White will hang out and play catch with a special-needs child who is the son of a Carson resource officer.

“He’s one of the best I’ve ever coached,” Cauble said of White. “I’ve had a couple that have thrown nearly as hard, but he has the total package. He has speed and location. And on top of all that, he’s a good kid.”

Perhaps that’s why the New York Yankees sent a mental-conditioning coach to meet with White during a tournament in Tampa, Fla., last summer. /

“With all the pro teams,” Casey White said, “it’s like you are sizing him up. You look at him, and it’s like, ‘OK, I hear all this, let me see what he looks like.’ They talk to him about his maturity level. They ask, like, ‘If you have this pitch count on this kid, what pitch do you throw?’ They want to know your best pitch, your worst pitch. It gets pretty intense.”

These teams are evaluating whether or not to invest a large sum of money in July on someone who is pitching against West Rowan and Central Cabarrus in March, but who could be pitching against future Major League athletes from the Yankees or Braves a few months later.

“Owen White, he’s an animal,” said one regional Major League scout. “He’s got a dominant fastball, plus a Division I breaking ball and a Division I change-up right now at the high school level. His mound presence is off the charts, his competitiveness is off the charts. There aren’t too many high schools in North Carolina that have an Owen White walking around. He’s special. He’s a dude, man. If the money’s right, he’s a top 3 round (draft pick).”

Casey White said her family isn’t sure what it will do if Owen is drafted high and offered a large contract.

“As a parent,” she said, “you want your kid to get the best education he can get, and when you start talking a million dollars and you’re talking about going to play pro sports, it sounds awesome, moneywise, but you take out taxes and, knowing you’ve got to live on that for six years, what’s left of that? You’re bringing home $630,000.

“A lot of people say, ‘I can live on $100,000 a year, but I don’t know. What do you have to fall back on in seven years? There’s no guarantee you can go back to school. At that time, you’ll be 25, 26 years old. So I don’t know. That’ll be a big discussion, I’m sure, around the White house when and if that should ever occur.”

Owen rakes his left hand through his hair when asked about the same question: Do you take the money or the scholarship?

“Honestly,” he finally said, “my main focus right now is to focus on college. It’s hard for an 18-year-old boy to turn down seven figures to play baseball, to play the sport he loves and has played his whole life. It’s going to be a family decision if it comes to it. It’s God’s plan.”

Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr