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2015’s Most Improved Prospect: Nick Williams

A month or so ago on one of my Baseball Professor Daily Profcasts, fellow TDG writer George Bissell and I had Wilson Karaman of Baseball Prospectus on as our guest for our Friday on the Farm show.  Wilson gets a chance to spend ample time covering the Cal League and with that he sees many top prospects come through.  One thing that he stressed to us in the conversation was just how important it is to see prospects recognize their shortcomings and take steps to correct them.  Here in 2015, no single player in the minor leagues has done this with more vigor than the Frisco RoughRiders Nick Williams.

Williams was drafted by the Texas Rangers with the 93rd overall pick straight out of high school.  At 6’3”, 195 lbs., his athleticism jumped off the page along with his incredible bat speed from the left side.  There is no doubt that even as an 18-year-old Williams felt that he was the best player at the level and as he progressed he continued to feel that way.  It wasn’t until the end of his third year as a professional, in 2014, when he reached AA for the first time that he finally looked overmatched.

Aggression at the plate has been the name of the game since day one and Williams began a pattern of swinging at any and every pitch simply because most of the time he could put the barrel on the ball.  The ability to barrel up just about any pitch can be both a blessing and a curse and what works in high-A doesn’t necessarily do the trick in AA and above.  Over 15 games in AA during the 2014 campaign he posted career worst rates in both walks (3.1%) and strikeouts (32.8%).  It certainly wasn’t due to lack of ability but this was a trend that we has seen as he continued to move up and it gave a lot of scouts and evaluators pause.

Fast forward to 2015 and 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.

This homer caped a perfect 7-7 day during a double header

The new found patience has not made any of his other tools play down either, as his 12 home runs and 10 stolen bases thus far have given him a great shot to eclipse his previous single year highs of 17 and 15—both of which came in different seasons.  When a player of Williams’s skill level is pushed to change the result can often be failure to adjust outside of their comfort zone but when successful it can propel the player to new heights.  Perhaps the hype and success of teammate Nomar Mazara was the push that Williams needed to make the change and let people know, “Hey guys, don’t forget about me.”

Folks around baseball have begun to take notice of the success Williams is having and fantasy owners need to do the same.  In Chris Crawford’s excellent series “Some Projection Left: Ask the Industry”, he polled baseball scouts and executives from across the game about their top five corner outfield prospects.  Williams drew consideration with other top players Like Mazara, Michael Conforto, Jesse Winker, and Aaron Judge just a year after not being considered close to that class.

When skill finally matches the hunger to improve and be the best you can be it tends to be a recipe for greatness.  Williams has shown me more than enough this year that I am fully back on the bandwagon and rooting for him to succeed.  The centerfielder may eventually be forced off the position to left-field where his arm would play up a bit but regardless of where he ends up his bat and leg speed should be a viable fantasy asset.  Of all the outfielders I mentioned before only Mazara has the higher upside so take a chance on Williams before the rest of your league catches on to his resurgence.

Jake Devereaux also writes for BaseballProf.com You can follow him on Twitter @DevJake

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Jake Devereaux

Jake Devereaux

6 Comments

  1. July 24, 2015 at 2:05 pm — Reply

    I’ll admit, last year, I was not a fan of Williams at all. I heard a lot about his sweet swing and power potential, but I’ve always felt plate approach was the key to applying those skills. I read a quote by Ted Williams as a kid that always stuck with me:

    “A good hitter can hit a pitch in a good spot three times better than a great hitter can hit a ball in a questionable spot.”

    That and the below image speak volumes. After all, if Ted Williams can only hit .240 on pitches low and away, what chance does Nick Williams have?

    http://www.hardballtimes.com/images/uploads/williamsgraphic.png

    But base on your reports here and at BP, I invested in him in both of my leagues, and I’m thrilled with the progress so far. Thanks for all the great coverage!

  2. Jon
    July 27, 2015 at 12:07 am — Reply

    How would you rank Williams vs. Billy McKinney?

    • August 18, 2015 at 1:28 pm — Reply

      Williams has far more ceiling than McKinney. McKinney can put the barrel on the ball consistently but he doesn’t drive it with the same authority. He will be a fringy fantasy play at best, while Williams could become a top LF option in all fantasy leagues.

  3. dbreer23
    July 29, 2015 at 2:42 pm — Reply

    Any concern that NW’s walk rate really improved for the first few weeks of the season, and has since receded to previous levels? Thanks!

    • August 18, 2015 at 1:29 pm — Reply

      There is certainly some concern there but what hasn’t changed is that he is still striking out far less than he was before. As long as he continues to swing at the right pitches he will maintain most of his improvements.

  4. February 14, 2016 at 10:11 am — Reply

    […] 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 […]

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