Pitcher Matt White signs for $10.2 million

November 26, 1996


St. Petersburg Times

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Matt White pulled on his new Devil Rays jersey Monday and noticed it bore his favorite number, 21.

Vince Naimoli, managing general partner of Tampa Bay's expansion Major League Baseball team, chimed in that he liked the number, too.

"The number of wins his first year," Naimoli said, as general manager Chuck LaMar cringed in mock horror at such expectations.


But 21 wasn't the only number of interest at Tropicana Field on Monday. The most talked about number was $10.2 million, the amount of the record-setting signing bonus the team, which begins play in 1998, will pay the 18-year-old pitcher from Waynesboro, Pa.

Of more relevance to the Rays were: the 96-mph at which White's fastball has been clocked; the 6-foot-5, 238-pounds he measures in at; the 10-1 record and 131 strikeouts in 74 1/3 innings he posted at Waynesboro High this season.

And his potential to be a No. 1 starter in the major leagues.

"There's no question in our mind he was the most talented player in this year's draft and in a lot of drafts," LaMar said.

White is big, strong and talented, and the Rays said they were just as impressed with his character, background and personality. Baseball America ranked him as the high school pitcher with the best velocity in the nation, best breaking pitch and closest to the majors.

The Rays say they will be patient in developing his talent, something White said was a positive factor in his decision to join the expansion team.

"I just had a comfort level with their whole approach and the way they are going about things," White said. "Their main focus is developing players and that's all I can ask for."

White will start working out in St. Petersburg in January and is likely to begin his pro career at Class A Charleston, S.C., the Rays' new affiliate in the South Atlantic League. That news was music to the ears of Hagerstown Suns general manager David Blenckstone.

"I think it's great. If he didn't sign with Toronto, we always hoped that he would sign with an organization in our league," Blenckstone said. "I'm glad he's coming. I hope he pitches while they're here."

Charleston is scheduled to make its only trip to Hagerstown June 4-7. An appearance by White would almost certainly pack Municipal Stadium.

The plan is for White to spend at least three years in the minor leagues, pegging his return to Tropicana Field for the 2000 season.

"The main goal when I get there is to stay there," White said. "Progressing to that level, I don't want to go too fast and get discouraged."

For the second time in three weeks, the Devil Rays took advantage of the unique circumstances of the draft to sign one of the nation's top players. First, it was Bobby Seay, the 12th pick overall by the Chicago White Sox, for $3 million. And now White, who was the No. 7 pick by San Francisco and might have gone higher had there not been predraft talk that he was seeking a large bonus and might be tough to sign.

"There's no question we have signed, in our scouts' opinions, the top right-handed pitcher and the top left-handed pitcher in the draft," LaMar said.

Naimoli acknowledged he will hear some negative comments from other teams for the size of the bonus to be paid White, but said the Rays had to do what they did, especially with the restrictive provisions of the June draft and expansion draft.

"The system is so stacked against us it could make us noncompetitive for a long time," Naimoli said.

"We're committed to be competitive. Since there was this loophole in the system we took advantage of it."

The loophole allowed four players, including Seay and White, to become free agents because they were not offered written contracts within 15 days of the draft. Arizona, the other expansion team, signed the other two - first baseman Travis Lee (to what was a record $10 million deal that still has to be reworked and approved) and pitcher John Patterson (for a reported $6 million). All four surpassed the record of $2 million No. 1 draft pick Kris Benson received from Pittsburgh.

The Rays were in the final bidding for White against a handful of teams, including the New York Yankees and Baltimore.

The $10.2 million is strictly a signing bonus. White will make the same $850 a month salary as other first-year minor leaguers. The Rays have until the end of next year to pay the bonus and plan to do so in four installments - $1 million when the contract is approved, $1.5 million on Jan. 15, $3 million on July 1 and $4.7 million on Dec. 31, 1997.

White will donate $250,000 to the Rays' charitable foundation and said he plans to get involved in community efforts. He will move here in January.

- Staff Writer Bill Callen contributed to this report.

The Herald-Mail Articles