Phillies Top 10 Prospects: #2 – Nick Williams

Outfielder Nick Williams, obtained by the Phillies in the Cole Hamels trade from Texas last season, comes in at the #2 spot on our TBOH Top 10 Phillies Prospects list. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
Outfielder Nick Williams, obtained by the Phillies in the Cole Hamels trade from Texas last season, comes in at the #2 spot on our TBOH Top 10 Phillies Prospects list. (Photo Credit: Getty Images) /

The Philadelphia Phillies Top 10 Prospects countdown is winding down here at TBOH as we reach the #2 player on our list.

As we’ve moved through our TBOH ranking for 2016, the Cole Hamels deal with the Texas Rangers at last season’s trade deadline has already reared its head twice on the countdown.

A few days back we covered catcher Jorge Alfaro, who finished in the #6 position on our list. Just yesterday it was Jake Thompson, the Phillies top pitching prospect, who finished in the #3 spot in our rankings.

Each of those players came over in the Hamels deal, and now we find still another player received as part of the bounty from that trade in outfielder Nick Williams.

Williams was the Rangers’ 2nd round selection in the 2012 MLB Amateur Draft out of Ball High School in his native town of Galveston, Texas. The 22-year old is a 6’3, 195 pounder who both hits and fields as a left-hander, and who now has the very real look of the Phillies right fielder of the future.

That future should come in 2017 as Williams finishes up his minor league apprenticeship this coming season with a full season at AAA Lehigh Valley. He has appeared in parts of four minor league seasons, and has a slash line of .296/.346/.489 over 1,629 plate appearances.

I say right field, even though he has the ability to play center, and though some have felt that left field may be his best position. Williams has the arm for right, and is a left-handed fielder, both pluses for that position. Also, the Phillies other potential longterm options such as Odubel Herrera, Cornelius Randolph, Roman Quinn, and even Jorge Alfaro look more likely to be better fits for the center and left field spots down the line.

Just last July at ‘The Dynasty Guru’ approximately a week before the big Phillies-Rangers deal went down, Jake Devereaux headlined Williams as “2015’s Most Improved Prospect”, noting greatly improved patience at the plate as the key factor:

…the still very young 21-year-old Williams is enjoying far and away the best year of his career.  He returned to the Texas league in 2015 again as one of the youngest players at AA but this time he brought with him a new game plan, one that he never had to employ before—patience.  Instead of swinging at every pitch Williams decided he wasn’t afraid to take a first pitch even if it meant getting behind in the count and most often his decision to lay off has worked in his favor.  His walk rate thus far has risen to 8.0% and most impressively his K rate has dropped to an astounding 18.6%.  This drop of 14.2% in his K rate has manifested itself in a batting average of .300 vs last year’s mark of .226.

Before that 2015 improvement unfolded, Baseball Prospectus’ scouting report on Williams included the following: “An inconsistent outfielder at best, he will not be an option in center and will have to rely on his bat to carry the weight of his potential. Fortunately, he’s a naturally gifted hitter with the Adam Jones starter kit at the plate.

Baseball America also named Williams as their Phillies #2 prospect back in November. In their presentation, Josh Norris wrote up this scouting report:

Since his raw amateur days, Williams has made incredible strides. He still boasts well above-average bat speed as well as one of most skilled sets of hands in the minor leagues. Though Williams is criticized for playing too deep and for a wandering sense of effort in the outfield, nobody questions his raw ability. With a few adjustments, he could easily stay in center field over the long term. If he does have to move to a corner, his plus throwing arm makes right field a viable option. He’s a true five-tool player whose ceiling will be determined by how hard he works.

Here at TBOH, all seven of our staffers placed Williams among their top three Phillies prospects, with five of the seven putting him in their individual #2 spot. The most conservative of our writers on him, Tyler DiSalle and David Mosemann, had Williams in their #3 position. Both simply had him flip-flopped with Thompson in the 2-3 positions on their lists.

He was hands down the player I was most excited about in the deal with the Texas Rangers for Hamels,” wrote Mike Azzalina. “His potential is unlimited. I am talking 30 home run power if he can figure out the correct approach. He has incredibly quick hands. Lehigh Valley will be an interesting test for him as he tries to decipher hittable from unhittable pitches.

Alexis Girardo wrote that  “I really like Williams. I think he can be a Jayson Werth type of player for this team. Great defense and bat. I think he has to work on plate discipline, but I truly believe he can be an all-star.

Ethan Witte also spoke to that plate discipline: “The low walk rate worries me that he could be Domonic Brown part II, but from all reports, his hitting ability is ahead of where Brown’s was, meaning he’ll actually justify being high on lists. Can he remain a CF? The hope is he can, so that his current profile plays up even more.

Our Ryan Gerstel noted the same improvement that Devereaux had reported: “The 22-year-old outfielder vastly improved his plate discipline in 2015, and because of that, his offensive ceiling is sky-high. With his 6’3”, 195-pound frame and his lighting-quick hands, Williams could be a force to be reckoned with at the plate when he reaches the big leagues.”

More from That Balls Outta Here

That leaves me, and while I did put Williams into my own #2 slot, it was close between him and pitchers Thompson and Mark Appel. For me to be truly excited about an offensive outfielder, I want to see more than Williams is producing to this point in his career.

Williams has a nice stroke, but his .226 average the first time around at AA Frisco in 2014 when he was playing at four years younger than the league average worries me when considering his early MLB career against experienced big league hurlers. He has a nice raw power-speed combo, but the 17 homers and 13 steals a year ago at AA look more good than great to me.

The above cautionary mention by Ethan Witte has been the same nagging, annoying little whisper that I have heard in the back of my head. That little voice has whispered on more than one occasion the name “Dom Brown” – and an outcome like that would be a nightmare that no one associated with the Phillies wants to repeat.

Brown banged out 20 homers and stole 17 bases while hitting for a .327/.391/.589 slash line in 2010 during his age 22 season split between AA Reading and AAA Lehigh Valley. He was not only the Phillies #1 prospect, but briefly rose to become the top prospect in all of baseball. We all know how that one turned out.

I like Williams – a lot. The only thing keeping me from over-exuberance is Dom Brown. I want to see Williams really come out in 2016 and not just display enough talent to play in the big leagues – he already has demonstrated that he does have enough to reach the Majors. I want to see Williams come out on fire, acting and playing like he wants to be a star.

The upside on Williams is as a consistent all-star caliber starting outfielder for the next 8-10 years. The downside is a Brown-like bust who the boo birds at Citizens Bank Park will turn on within two years. Even splitting the difference and simply being a modest offensive option will be a disappointment.

I believe that we will know within the next two years whether or not Williams is for real. To me, he is truly the boom or bust prospect in the Phillies system. Which way he ultimately goes could determine just how quickly the Phillies return to contending status.

Next: Phillies Top 10 Prospects: #3 - Jake Thompson