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.