Phillies Nick Williams Could Make or Break the Rebuild
By Matt Veasey
The Philadelphia Phillies organization is home to one of the top outfield prospects in all of baseball.
That prospect is 22-year old Nick Williams, a 6’3″, 195 pound left-handed star in the making who Baseball America recently ranked as the 27th best prospect in the game today, and baseball’s 7th best outfield prospect.
Williams was originally selected by the Texas Rangers in the 2nd round of the 2012 MLB Amateur Draft out of Ball High School in his hometown of Galveston, Texas.
He came over to the Phillies as part of the Hamels trade deadline deal last season. Just over a week ago, our staff here at TBOH named Williams as the Phils’ #2 prospect, behind only universally acclaimed top prospect J.P. Crawford and just ahead of pitcher Jake Thompson, another piece in that Hamels deal.
Williams is a significant talent, again, arguably the second best in the entire system. No outfielder in the system has a higher power ceiling, and in the modern game, your lineup must contain a power threat. The Phillies need Williams to come through, and not turn into a Dom Brown-like disappointment.
In their Top 100 Prospects issue, BA graded Williams as above average in his Hit (60) and Power (60) tools, above average in Fielding (55), and average for his Speed (50) and Arm (50), stating that they feel his ETA at Citizens Bank Park is next year, in the 2017 season.
For most skilled observers who follow the game, the jury is still out on Williams’ ultimate actual value to the Phillies for the long run. There are legitimate concerns that he could turn out to be another Dominic Brown, a supremely talented athlete whose shortcomings are exploited at the Major League Baseball level.
In the BA issue, John Manuel was asked to compare Williams to a pair of other outfielders on their Top 100 list, #22 Austin Meadows of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and #30 Max Kepler of the Minnesota Twins. “Williams has the most volatility of the group,” stated Manuel. “Higher upside, worst strike-zone judgment. He could wind up being a tease.”
Manuel’s colleague, Matt Eddy, was asked to compare the same players. “While conceding that Williams has more power – and significantly more opposite-field power…I project the last two (Meadows and Kepler) to produce more offensive value for their teams in the plate appearances that don’t end with home runs, which is most of them….I trust the hitting approaches of Kepler and Meadows to Williams.“
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At the BA website, J.J. Cooper liked Williams over the other two: “I’d argue Williams is a potentially safer bet as he’s been more durable and has a longer track record of success in the minors. The strikeout-to-walk ratios have always been disturbing with Williams but he always hits thanks to some of the best hands in the minors.”
Easily the most bullish of the BA evaluators was Ben Badler, who gave the following in choosing him over the other two in that BA website piece:
"“I would roll the dice on Williams, who may have a slightly higher risk factor but is a more dynamic player. Nobody’s going to mistake Williams for Joey Votto, but he made tremendous strides with his plate discipline and hitting approach last year. There’s still risk there and it has to be a continual focus for Williams, but he showed a much better approach in 2015 than he ever had in the past with more walks and fewer strikeouts. Williams’ hands are ridiculously explosive, his swing works well and his raw power earns plus or better grades. He has the athleticism and speed to play in center field if necessary, but I think he fits better on a corner, where he can be an above-average defender in time. I’ve said this before, but Williams could be the Phillies’ version of Carlos Gonzalez.”"
The 2016 season is sure to be a watershed one for Williams and many of the other top prospects in the organization. He is expected to play left field and join Crawford, Thompson and others such as pitchers Mark Appel and Zach Eflin, catchers Andrew Knapp and Jorge Alfaro, and outfielder Roman Quinn in a stacked lineup at AAA Lehigh Valley during the summer.
At MLB.com, Bernie Pleskoff described Williams in one word: “Explosive,” and made these comments in his scouting report:
"“Williams is still a work in progress. He has been inconsistent in his approach and results until this past season…Williams is an aggressive hitter with a very quick bat. That excellent bat speed helps him drive the ball and allows him to generate power from his strong body. Using the entire field, Williams is a solid gap hitter with emerging home run power…He has played all three outfield positions, but I project his best position to be left field. He looks and reacts more comfortably in that role…his power and his good foot speed are evident. His outstanding bat speed forms the foundation of his overall hitting mechanics. He has a fluid swing and can punish a fastball…Williams is a player who could ultimately hit .300 with 25 home runs if he continues his current progress. But risk remains that he won’t consistently harness his abilities…His bat speed and the power in his athletic body are real. Can he translate upside to reality?”"
According to Jim Salisbury’s organizational report at BA, Williams likes the direction in which the team is moving. “It just feels right. I’m almost positive that we’re going to be good in the next few years. There’s too much talent.”
What Williams and those other top prospects need to realize is that talent is only one half of what it takes to succeed and win at the big league level. In Major League Baseball, every player is talented. Hard work, determination, and perseverance are traits that will elevate the talented players, transforming them into winning players.
The odds are that for all the talent that the Phillies farm system now possesses, which will include the top overall pick in the 2016 MLB Amateur Draft just over three months from now, all of that talent will not make it as impact big leaguers. That is the history of the game speaking.
Williams reaching his ceiling as a ball player, becoming a true corner outfield star, not falling into the Brown flame-out category, would go a long way in realizing his “we’re going to be good in the next few years” comment.
It would also help push the Phillies rebuilding process, one in which he is a pivotal piece, forward more quickly and efficiently. He made strides in his overall game in 2015. It’s time for him to take another step forward here in the 2016 season.