Prospect Spotlight: Gavin Williams, RHP, Cleveland Guardians
The Cleveland Guardians are a well-oiled, pitching development machine and we’re about to really see the fruits of that labor. Gavin Williams is one of many young Guardians arms who has the potential to be a very productive, major league pitcher for a long time and when all is said and done, he might just be the best of the bunch.
The Fayetteville, NC native was a first round selection (23rd overall) by the Guardians in the 2021 draft out of East Carolina University. He was a bullpen arm for the Pirates during his Freshman and Sophomore seasons; he started to find some extra velocity late in 2018 touching 100 mph at times during his appearances and more consistently in 2019. His Junior season was the shortened Covid year and he appeared in just 2 games. He was passed over in the 5-Round Major League draft that summer and instead of signing as an undrafted free agent, he decided to go back to ECU for his Senior year. In 2021, everything came together for Williams; he became a starter and absolutely dominated. He was 10-1 for the “Diamond Bucs”, posting a 1.88 ERA with 130 K’s in just 81.1 IP, winning the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year. This vaulted him to a first round selection in the 2021 MLB draft and a perfect landing spot with the Guardians.
The 6 ‘6 righthander started his professional career just like he finished his college career and made it all the way to Double-A in 2022. He began in High-A, Lake County, where he made 9 starts and dominated to the tune of 67 K’s in 45 innings with a 1.40 ERA and .167 BA against. He was promoted to Double-A Akron on June 6th and rewarded the Guardians’ decision by more than holding his own against tougher competition. In 16 starts (70 IP), he posted a 2.31 ERA with 82 K’s and a .176 BA against.
Williams did outperform his Double-A numbers a little with a high strand rate (86.3%) and low BABIP (.217); his FIP of 4.03 better reflects the skills he showed in his time with the Rubberducks. Further to this, his ground ball rate decreased (41.0%-34.5%) while his fly ball rate increased (32.5%-48.5%) when compared to his time in High-A. It’s a small thing to keep an eye on early in 2023, but we know based on the recent past, we can trust the Guardians pitching development team to address mechanics, pitch mix and game strategy to help correct this. Even with regression, Williams showed he belonged and can compete at a high level.
His pitch arsenal includes a double-plus fastball that sits between 95-97 mph with a great movement profile, a plus curveball which misses bats at a high rate, an above average slider that he uses to both lefties and righties and an average changeup which gives hitters a slightly different look. His 4-seam fastball was actually graded the best fastball in Baseball America’s top 100 list. Geoff Pontes of BA points out that even though he doesn’t have the highest velocity or most movement on his fastball, he does get the best combination of whiff and weak contact on the pitch. The data and metrics are astounding: greater than 30% on whiffs, chase rate and CSW (called strikes plus whiffs) and a sub .300 wOBA on a pitch he throws with 18.5+ inches of induced vertical break and 9.5+ inches of horizontal break. It’s truly an elite pitch that he can play his other pitches off of.
Williams’ command is average and really the only major thing holding him back from establishing himself as a bonafide ace. This growth will come down to the development of the command of his slider and changeup and the repeatability of his delivery. If he can improve in all of these areas we could see Williams vault himself into the top echelon of starting pitchers.
Cleveland has such an abundance of starting pitching both in the major leagues and the upper minors that there will be a lot of internal competition to move up the depth chart. It’s possible Williams could start the year in Triple-A, but there are names like Bibee, L. Allen, Cantillo, Curry, Pilkington, Gaddis and Burns all competing for rotation spots. We know that talent always rises to the top and injuries and roster moves will no doubt take place as we move forward. Williams should find himself competing for a major league rotation spot by late 2023 or early 2024. Because he’s not mentioned in the top tier of pitching prospects just yet, he’s someone that could be acquired in a trade in your dynasty league without breaking the bank. It’s worth a look because Williams could eventually enter that elite tier. (Greg Hoogkamp)