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Rockies prospect Max White is relieved to have settled into Modesto — and now he wants more

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The minor league path hasn't been linear for Rockies outfielder Max White, but maybe that was the point all along.

Max White bats against the Bakersfield Blaze.
Max White bats against the Bakersfield Blaze.
Bobby DeMuro

Bakersfield, Calif. -- How does one contextualize Max White's career? Do you mention the obvious speed, the intriguing power, perhaps the second round pedigree to prove his relevance? You have to acknowledge the past, of course; how long do you dwell on it?

It seems weirdly appropriate to write about the outfielder in the same week we are releasing our midseason prospect rankings. The Rockies' High-A speedster doesn't make the top 30 (he received three votes, good for 50th place), and there's no question he's a little ways away from making himself into a can't-miss future option in the outfield.

But look deeper. Understand the context of his time in pro ball; remember where he stood the last time we looked in on his career. White failed, and then failed again, and then failed some more in Low-A. He faded from outside prospect evaluators' lists, fell behind a contemporary of his now on to a big league career, and seemed lost in the North Carolina wilderness. But he never gave up.

"I remember when I first met him, I didn’t believe him at first, but he was like, 'oh, I’ve been [in Asheville] for three years,'" Nuts infielder Josh Fuentes, who now lives with the outfielder and second baseman Forrest Wall, says. "I was like, oh, he’s probably joking. But he was telling the truth! That’s a long time."

That was a long time to be stuck in baseball purgatory, and now that he's out of it, White is doing... OK.

Admittedly, this would be a better story if White were hitting .320 in Modesto (he's slashing .241/.318/.406 entering Friday), or leading the league in stolen bases (granted he's fourth, with 28) or slugging homer after homer (he does have seven, and six triples). The perfect bow to tie on Max White's 2016 is the redemptive follow-up story, right? Previous struggles forgotten, Max White turns into an All-Star, or something like that.

Alas, life doesn't always fit the desired narrative, but again, look below the surface and you'll find promising things happening for the Florida native.

"It’s not so much me taking a blind stab at it this year," White says about his relief in being more equipped for High-A. "I have my base layer and I know what kind of player I am. From here, it’s just me coming off that every year, and building off what I can do from here."

As it goes for so many players across so many plate appearances, this year has been an up-and-down endeavor for White. A great first two weeks were quickly followed by a forgettable finish to April. An ice-cold May—White hit just .202 with a .636 OPS and 33 strikeouts in 89 at-bats that month—gave pause to whether he could hack it in California. And then he turned in a white-hot June, spending the month as the Nuts' best hitter (.338/.407/.519 with ten stolen bases and seven doubles in 21 games).

The totality is a player holding his own, keeping his head above water and flashing the athletic tools that initially attracted the Rockies in 2012. That doesn't sound like much—call it damning with faint praise, or maybe the soft bigotry of low expectations—but this is all building off the base layer that's imperative to help a player through his development process.

"It feels good knowing that I’ve finally been able to come out every night with something to show," White says. "I think it’s the maturity, learning the game and learning myself as a player. Talking to my teammates, they tell me I may not be hitting numbers right now like I was last season, but I’m a more mature hitter."

Nuts outfielder Omar Carrizales is quiet and reserved when discussing his own stellar season; ask about his outfield mate, though, and Carrizales lights up—and corroborates exactly what White mentions.

"I’m glad because the last few years, he was using just right field, and now he’s finally using all of the field," Carrizales says. "He’s doing well hitting to the opposite field, and that works because he’s got speed, and it’s good when he can put the ball in any spot on the field. He’s doing really well this year with it."

This is the point of player development, after all. The path isn't always linear, nor should it be; it's not an easy road to the big leagues, and players understand that. Sure, there's a David Dahl here, a Jon Gray there. That's a testament to the Rockies' scouting and developmental staffs knowing they can't miss in those first few picks when given the opportunity.

But for every Dahl, or every Gray, there's a Max White. Players who have all the potential in the world, all the talent and physical tools and makeup to put it together, who simply need to get out on the field and work things out. Remember, it took Trevor Story a few cracks at Modesto before he passed the test. Nolan Arenado's path was more linear, but even those closest to him didn't expect his career to be anything like what it's become. This is the point of player development.

"It's a lot of work, but I just want to stay consistent like I am now, and build a little bit more," White says, looking forward in his career. "I want to say that I came to High-A to learn what kind of hitter I am, and the pitchers learned what kind of hitter I am, and they still couldn’t beat me. I eventually want to be able to say that I thrived, that I got more mature as a hitter."

Maturity isn't a trait you can will upon yourself, of course; you either are or you aren't, and if you are, those around you will notice. In that regard, then, White is more mature this season. He's a changed man compared to last summer, and the one before, and the one before that. And maybe that's the way to contextualize Max White's career so far: he never gave up.

"Baseball is tough, man, it is so tough," Fuentes says. "Guys get down in tough situations, and they pack it in. But he never packed it in. You have to tip your cap to him for that."

"That's baseball. You hit well this year, and then maybe next year you struggle, but you can never give up," Carrizales reasons. "Sometimes it’s fair, sometimes it’s unfair, but you have to keep going. And he just kept going."

White's goals are still lofty. For what it's worth, he's still nearly six months younger than the average Cal Leaguer this summer, even after the last three years. Sure, the Rockies have a few promising outfielders in the system—White is well aware of what's in front of him—but the lefty swinger didn't go through purgatory the last few years to give up based on depth charts.

"I’m confident that I can be a part of the future of this organization," he says. "We’ve got a lot of good outfielders, but I want to keep improving who I am as a player, and make it where nobody can say I’m not going to be in the future."

Maybe the stats will follow in time, and maybe they won't. Regardless, the outfielder deserves credit for sticking through the process, facing down his baseball demons, and starting to turn the corner. This is the point of player development.

"It's great to see him do this, man, he’s hitting the ball well and he’s lightning fast," Fuentes sums up. "He’s a great guy, too. It’s great to see your friends succeed."