One pitch. That’s all Phillips Andover coach Kevin Graber needed.
Nearly six years ago, Mike Constantino, who was running Legends Baseball, texted Graber to come down and check out an 11-year-old lefthanded pitcher from Rowley. The catcher’s mitt popped once and Graber’s jaw dropped.
“That’s all I needed to see,” he recalled earlier this week.
Three years later, Thomas White took the mound at Perfect Game Nationals in Florida. He hadn’t thrown in front of a gun since the previous summer, when he maxed out at 79 m.p.h., but after throwing a few pitches he returned to a dugout in disbelief. He had yet to start high school, but he’d just hit 91.
“Are you joking?” exclaimed White in disbelief.
Three years later, White said, “That tournament was where it all started.”
A month after that tournament, White was walking out of his freshman math class at Phillips Andover when his Instagram began blowing up. Prep Baseball Report had just ranked the 6-foot-3-inch 14-year-old as the No. 1 recruit in the nation for the Class of 2023.
Once again, he was incredulous. “Are you sure about this? I didn’t know they ranked people this young,” he answered.
“It was a pinch-yourself moment,” said his mother, Joanna.
The least surprised person might have been Rusty Tucker. The former Gloucester High lefthander spent nine years in the minors, recording more than 100 saves. He’s been White’s pitching coach since he was 9.
“We knew we had something special,” Tucker said. “He’s really the kind of kid you want to root for. He’s not arrogant. He’s a good teammate. He does all the little things well.”
A few months later, when his freshman season was canceled during the COVID pandemic, White retreated to the family home in Rowley, where he worked out in a basement gym with his father, Tim, a former Merrimack football player who tried out as a punter for the Patriots and Raiders. On weekends, he met up with his Legends catcher, Fletcher Waterman, at a nearby field to throw bullpen sessions.
With Phillips Andover sporting a senior-laden staff of Matt Sapienza (Georgetown), Jonathan Santucci (Duke) and LJ Keevan (UMass Lowell) during the COVID-shortened 2021 season, White threw only 16⅔ innings as a sophomore, striking out 36 with a 1.08 ERA. He punctuated the season with a 16-strikeout one-hitter against rival Phillips Exeter.
“I’ve been here for 13 years and we’ve had some really strong arms and great pitchers,” Graber said. “I’ve never seen anything like that here or anywhere.”
The 52-year-old Graber has led the Big Blue to three Central New England Prep championships and three No. 1 rankings in the country, but he’s never seen anything quite like this lanky lefty.
“At a certain point I started wondering, will there ever be a generational talent that will land in my lap?” Graber said. “The Mike Trouts of the world grow up somewhere. I think people use the term ‘generational’ without really knowing what it means. I’ve never seen anything like Thomas.”
Now the 6-5 White’s motion is effortless and repeatable. He looks more like he’s playing catch in the backyard than rifling 95 m.p.h. howitzers. He mixes his mid-90s fastball with an improving changeup and a new slurve.
“He’s as smooth as it gets,” Tucker said. “The ball explodes out of his hand.”
White is off to a 3-0 start this season, striking out 28 and allowing just one hit in his first 12 innings. For more than two years, he’s been able to maintain his top ranking from PBR and he’s now ranked No. 3 in the nation by Perfect Game.
“Once I got the ranking, it wasn’t in my blood to let it go easy,” White said. “It lit a fire.”
He committed to Vanderbilt on April 1, but major league teams will undoubtedly come calling next summer, when he’ll be eligible for the 2023 draft. Massachusetts hasn’t produced a high school first-round pick since Lawrence Academy’s Tyler Beede in 2011. The last top-five high school pick from the Commonwealth was Raynham High’s Glenn Tufts (5th overall) in 1973.
“I think we could be looking at the No. 1 pick in the draft,” Graber said. “I’d take him.”
▪ The Westford pitching staff is off to a terrific start, posting shutouts in six of seven games. The Ghosts rattled off five straight shutouts to open the campaign before Tuesday’s 14-3 win over Greater Lowell. But they got right back to their scoreless ways Wednesday with a 3-0 win over Weston.
Carson Cormier, Kevin Fitzgerald, Nic Bonica, and Matt Morash have paced the staff, with the latter recording a two-hitter with 15 strikeouts in his last outing against the Wildcats.
▪ Fifth-ranked Westford (7-0) is one of four undefeated teams left in EMass along with No. 1 Austin Prep (10-0), Diman (9-0), and Bristol-Plymouth (6-0) . . . Dighton-Rehoboth coach Bill Cuthbertson earned career win No. 600 on Wednesday when the Falcons beat Bourne, 9-2. He’s coached at D-R since 1980 . . . Tuesday’s South Shore League game between Cohasset and Mashpee was suspended in the 10th inning because of darkness with the score tied 2-2. It will be completed at a later date . . . East Boston junior righthander Luis Ortiz tossed a no-hitter in Wednesday’s 1-0 win over New Mission.
Games to watch
Monday, No. 19 Walpole at No. 3 Milton, 3:45 p.m. — After a loss to Natick, the Wildcats welcome another talented Bay State Conference team in Walpole.
Monday, No. 13 Andover at No. 14 North Andover, 4 p.m. — These bordering rivals are both playing well entering this Merrimack Valley Conference showdown.
Wednesday, King Philip at No. 6 Franklin, 7 p.m. — An intriguing Hockomock League matchup between two offenses that have been on a tear.
Thursday, Arlington at Lexington, 6 p.m. — The Spy Ponders lead the Middlesex Liberty Division, but will face a tough test against upset-minded Lexington.
Friday, No. 2 BC High at Bridgewater-Raynham, 4 p.m. — The Eagles continue a difficult nonleague schedule with a road date against the 8-2 Trojans.
Correspondent Matt Doherty contributed to this story.