Nick Williams out of @IronPigs lineup tonight after latest incident— Tom Housenick (@TomHousenick) June 28, 2016
Looks like the punishment, allegedly for failing to run out a grounder, continues into another day. And the manager is talking.
Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs outfielder Nick Williams is the second best prospect in the Phillies organization and there are high hopes for him. Acquired in the Cole Hamels deal last year, Williams is expected to join the Phils outfield at some point later this season, and there is hope it will happen sooner rather than later.
But if you’re holding your breath for it to happen right away, you’re going to turn blue and likely pass out.
In last night’s 5-3 loss to Columbus, Williams was yanked from a game by Iron Pigs manager Dave Brundage, the third time in the last month Williams has been pulled from a game. But unlike previous incidents, it’s unclear what precipitated Williams’ removal this time.
Asked why Nick Williams was pulled from game, Dave Brundage said "Ask him." Williams said he got no explanation, frustrated.— Greg Joyce (@GJoyce9) June 28, 2016
As reported by Greg Joyce by Lehigh Valley Live, Williams said after the game he had no idea why he was not allowed to finish Monday night’s game.
"Nope," Williams said. "I can't even tell you how I feel about that, honestly. It is what it is."
The Phillies' No. 2 prospect said he was "extremely" surprised to be pulled.
"Can't do nothing about that," he said. "I didn't say anything, I just took my seat. I don't know. I have no explanation."
Without being privy to the private conversations Williams has had with coaching staff over the last month, it’s hard to say whether Brundage is overreacting to something or whether Williams deserved to be pulled from the game. But this is not the first time something like this has happened in recent weeks.
A couple weeks ago, Williams was benched for two games for failing to run out a pop up that fell to the ground, costing himself an extra base. He was also disciplined after he and the team’s top prospect, J.P. Crawford, both bunted with an 8-0 lead, leading to a near brawl and numerous ejections.
So, what happened last night?
The outfielder capped an 0-for-4 night by grounding out on a comebacker to the pitcher leading off the bottom of the eighth. Williams was slow to get out of the batter's box and slow getting back to the dugout, where he tossed his helmet down the tunnel towards the clubhouse.
IronPigs manager Dave Brundage then inserted Carlos Alonso into the game in his spot and Williams headed to the clubhouse. Asked if there was anything to Williams being pulled, Brundage said, "You can ask him. That's about it."
Whether Williams’ benching is deserved or not, it’s disturbing to hear Williams say he doesn’t know why he was benched last night. Is Williams telling the truth about that? Does he really know the reason and is being coy? Or is Brundage evoking memories of the communication problems that plagued Ryne Sandberg’s clubhouse last season?
What is clear is that the Phils’ AAA manager feels Williams is not playing the game the way he wants it played, and that Williams will not be getting called up to the Majors as long as these types of incidents persist.
Strictly speaking about the play on the field, you can make the argument Williams deserves the call. Before his 0-for-4 on Monday (in which he saw just eight pitches in the game), Williams had hit .318 with five RBIs and five runs scored, and on the season was hitting .290/.333/.467 with seven homers and a wRC+ of 127.
If Williams truly is defying coaches or disrespecting the game (which means different things to different people), then it is a problem. But is this also just a case of an "old school" manager butting heads with a "new school" player? Whatever the root cause, the unfortunate side effect is that Williams is developing an unflattering reputation as a problem player, fairly or unfairly.
For his part, Williams seems to be saying all the right things about his recent run-ins with his skipper, talking at length after his benching a couple weeks ago.
"... I just try not to let it affect me. I say I messed up, I don't want to sit here and cop an attitude or throw a fit or anything. I messed up, so I gotta own up to what I did. It was frustrating and I was mad, but at the end of the day, it was my fault. I gotta own up to it. It sucks watching your teammates go out there battling and you can't go out there and help them. That just made me want to go out there and go."
Whether the discipline meted out against Williams is deserved or not, one thing is clear. He is not going to be called up to the Phillies in the midst of all this. No matter how well he performs on the field, if his manager feels his too immature to stay on the field in AAA, or that he needs more training on how to play the game "the right way," he’s going to stay in Lehigh Valley until they feel that training is completed.
And that’s bad news for Phillies fans who want to see the team’s No. 2 prospect playing for the big league club.
Manager Dave Brundage talked to Iron Pigs beat writers before their game against Columbus Tuesday night and had a little more to say about the Williams situation.
Brundage said it's not entirely true that Nick Williams got no explanation for being pulled. Said they had conv, declined to discuss details— Greg Joyce (@GJoyce9) June 28, 2016
Brundage: "I had my conversation with Nick. I’m not going to speak through the media to Nick. He understands, he knows."— Greg Joyce (@GJoyce9) June 28, 2016