One day two summers ago, Thomas White was standing where he always hoped he would: on the immaculate pitcher’s mound at Fenway Park.
Surrounded by a lush carpet of Kentucky bluegrass, the Green Monster towering at his back, he dialed in his warm-up pitches, hearing the sizzle and pop in the mostly empty ballpark. For a baseball-obsessed kid from Rowley, it was a dream come true, save for one detail.
He was dressed as a Yankee.
“I tried to not look at myself,” White recalled. “I tried to look out.”
That vantage point, he said, “is unreal. The mound is perfect. The view is perfect. It doesn’t get any better.”
At that event — a Red Sox- and Yankees-themed prospect showcase organized by two senior scouts from those clubs — White blinded himself to a part of the scene that had become familiar: a few dozen major league scouts, with notebooks and radar guns, forming a wall behind the backstop.
During White’s high school career at Phillips Andover, a chorus of baseball chatter followed him every time he took the mound. The scouts flocked as one, whether at Fenway, a national showcase in Hoover, Ala., or a foul-territory warm-up at a Central New England Prep League field. The group has swelled since the lefthander first reached 91 miles per hour at age 14, during a tournament in Fort Myers, Fla.
“That,” said his mother, Joanna, “was when everything changed.”
Today, her 18-year-old son is 6 feet 5 inches and 215 pounds. He is a top prospect for the Major League Baseball draft and has a full ride to a premier college baseball program (Vanderbilt). He serves hitters what former Red Sox broadcaster Dennis Eckersley would call “easy cheese” — an effortless-looking mid-90s fastball that reaches 98.
His low-80s curve acts like a slider, breaking down and in. Coming out of his hand, his high-70s changeup looks the same as the other two. Every pitch arrives from the same balanced delivery.
“There are dudes who throw 95 and look like they’re trying to throw 105,” said Chicago Cubs minor league field coordinator Kevin Graber, formerly White’s coach at Phillips Andover. “The high effort, the grunting with every pitch.”
Not White, who has struck out 165 batters and allowed 20 hits in 75 innings the last two seasons and won the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year award in both. His legs, thicker after adding some 15 pounds last offseason, drive forward. His upper body uncoils, left hand along for the ride. It looks as easy as White’s demeanor.
“When I was 14, that was the first time I saw a bunch of them like this behind the backstop,” he said. “I focus on the catcher’s mitt. You’re still just playing a game. When you put unneeded pressure on yourself, it gets harder. I stay loose, relaxed, and play the same game I’ve been playing since I was 3 years old.”
In the MLB draft July 9, he might not be around when his hometown Red Sox pick 14th overall. That’s where Baseball America ranked White, one of the top high school pitchers in the nation, but MLB.com’s recent mock draft had him going eighth to the Royals.
If he landed in Boston?
“I would have no words,” White said. “I could try to describe it … I don’t think I could.”
“Hometown, you know? I’ve been watching the Red Sox for as long as I can remember. I’ve been going to games forever. It would be a dream come true, to be honest.”
MLB’s prospect rankings peg him 17th in the draft class, which includes college and high school players, and the top lefthander.
Scott Boras, his family adviser, told the Globe that White, upon initial viewing two years ago, looked like one of the top high school arms in his class.
“He’s got a chance to be a great collegiate athlete or a great pro athlete,” Boras said. “Academically and athletically he has unique tools. He has the discipline and character to be highly successful in the major leagues.
“You don’t see a lot of pitchers of his caliber come from New England.”
The last first-round pitcher from a Massachusetts high school was Lawrence Academy’s Tyler Beede, of Worcester, who went 21st to the Blue Jays in 2011. Preceding him was Peabody’s Jeff Allison, whose 0.00 ERA and 98-m.p.h. fastball had the Marlins drafting him 16th overall in 2003. Salem’s Jeff Juden, the highest-drafted high school player from the state, went 12th to the Astros in 1989.
White is likely to be the first prep lefty from this state to be drafted in the first round.
He is excited about his commitment to Vanderbilt, but given the money involved — the suggested slot value ranges from $5.98 million for the No. 8 pick to $4.66 million at No. 14 — there is a solid chance White will be working out at someone’s spring training complex in the fall rather than facing Southeastern Conference hitters.
His father, Tim, a former Merrimack punter and a Red Sox diehard, has watched his son pair natural arm strength with uncommon study habits. He pores over video footage of his starts. After baseball opened the door to Phillips Andover, he earned “superior” grades (on Andover’s grading scale) at one of the top private schools in the country.
“He’s a student of whatever he’s doing,” said Tim White, an IT executive for Mass General Brigham. “Baseball, nutrition, bodybuilding, cars … ”
White drives a 2010 Dodge Charger SRT8. It is black, like his father’s 2015 Hellcat and the Challenger driven by his younger brother Adam, a baseball player at Triton Regional (sister Caitlin plays golf at Merrimack). They tweak their engines, trim, and accessories, and attend car shows together. Baseball takes up the rest of White’s time.
“In the winter, we have class, throw together, hit the gym, have dinner and do homework,” said Phillips Andover roommate Teo Spadaccini, who calls White’s car the loudest on campus. “Other than baseball, we play some MLB The Show. I give him the business.”
‘No red flags’
This spring, teammates and coaches reported seeing 40-50 scouts at White’s starts. At the season-ending rivalry game at Phillips Exeter May 27, two dozen showed for a final viewing. They paused their chatter when White began his windup. When White raised his glove, they raised their devices.
Longtime Red Sox scout Ray Fagnant, a chatty, broad-chested former minor league catcher, was musing how athletes don’t typically find their “man strength” until they approach their mid-20s. Added strength could mean triple digits for a pitcher with White’s delivery.
“It’s clean,” said Fagnant, the Sox’ Northeast Regional Scouting Supervisor, who helped organize the Fenway summer showcase with Yankees counterpart Matt Hyde. “It’s easy. That’s always been his thing. It’s a blessing.”
The Red Sox have drafted high school lefties before. Trey Ball (seventh overall in 2013) never got out of Double A. Jay Groome (12th in 2016) hasn’t made it out of Triple A. Henry Owens (36th overall in 2011) started 16 games for the big club. In 1997, they took John Curtice 17th. He didn’t make it out of A ball. The last first-round high school lefty to make an impact for the Sox was Bruce Hurst, drafted 22nd overall in 1976.
Those who have watched him believe White will make it because of his work habits. He doesn’t skip bunting practice. He helps put away the helmets. He is often last to leave the field.
“When your best players are your hardest workers,” Andover coach Chris Powers said, “when no job is too small for them, that sets the tone for your entire team.”
Former Gloucester High fireballer and Padres minor leaguer Rusty Tucker, his pitching coach since age 9, said White instantly became his top pupil at Legends Baseball in Middleton.
“The X-factor for him is he’s got a really good head on his shoulders,” Tucker said. “There’s a lot of pressure on him, and he still performs. He’s humble. He’s a good teammate. Great student. Great family.
“Trust me, I’ve been around the game long enough. You get kids that are the opposite. Stuff goes to their head. There’s no red flags with this kid.”
Spadaccini, formerly a youth-league teammate, remembers White reaching 69 m.p.h. at age 10, during a no-hit outing in a Connecticut tournament, and 80 m.p.h. at age 13.
“He’s super passionate, and I was worried he’d let everything outside get to him. He hasn’t at all,” said Spadaccini, a Yale commit. “Our first home game [this spring], there were tons of people. Even non-scouts, just like random kids I’ve never seen before wearing their travel baseball uniforms. It was crazy, and he was able to lock in every time.”
White also has had plenty of opportunity to practice his signature.
“The funniest thing I’ve seen between him and a fan — which is funny to say, because he lives across the dorm from me — was at Brooks,” said Spadaccini, who is about a half-inch taller than White. “A dad and a very little kid came up to him. He may have signed a glove and a ball and took a picture, but he had to get on his knees to take the picture because the kid was so little.”
White struck out five in two innings in the season-finale rivalry exhibition at Exeter. By the late innings, he was behind the backstop, the scouts long gone, gesturing toward the mound to help Spadaccini find his release point. In the top of the ninth, he was telling the on-deck man to sit fastball, because the pitcher wasn’t getting his curve over.
Andover lost, 1-0. The seniors’ time was up. Amid the glum silence of teammates packing up their gear, with empathetic parents and siblings waiting to take commemorative photos, White shed his jersey. His stare found the mound.
The rosin bag.
He sauntered out to grab it, eyeing the party on the other side of the field. Through the speakers, Sinatra was crooning “New York, New York.” In some big-league city, White could soon be a part of it.
Peter Abraham of the Globe staff contributed to this story.