Last year was a pretty lousy year for Phillies’ top outfield prospect Nick Williams.
He didn’t get called up to the Majors. He pressed and turned his season from a disappointment into a disaster. And he was benched multiple times for issues dealing with his attitude.
It was an awful, horrible, no-good, very bad year for Nick Williams in 2016. But that’s why his performance this spring has been so encouraging.
During his time in big league camp, Williams is playing like a top-100 prospect, hitting homers, making spectacular defensive plays and, most importantly, showing the kind of plate discipline that has eluded him for large stretches of his pro career.
Before we get to the most encouraging stuff, let’s take a quick look at the flashiest play you’re likely to see Williams, or any other Phillies outfielder, make this year.
Williams went over the fence to take a dinger away from Logan Schafer during the 8th inning of the Phils’ 6-4 loss to the Baltimore Orioles on Monday, a half-inning after he hit a solo home run to the opposite field.
Williams has the talent to be a star player in the Majors. No one has ever disputed that. And over the last two days specifically, he’s been one of the most electric players on the field.
Even after an 0-for-3 day at the dish in the Phils’ 9-0 win over the Atlanta Braves, Williams was hitting .320 with an .894 OPS but, just as important, walked twice in Tuesday’s win. So far this spring, he’s walked four times and struck out five.
That may not sound terribly exciting, but Williams’ biggest issue during his minor league career has been his plate discipline. At Lehigh Valley last year he walked in just 3.6% of his plate appearances and struck out 25.8% of the time. And after walking three times in a game on June 16, he drew only four walks the rest of the season in 290 PAs. His OBP over that time was .252, and he struggled to not take bad at bats with him into subsequent plate appearances.
On Tuesday, Williams had a bad first at bat, swinging at the first pitch and popping up with runners on base. He followed that up with walks in his next two plate appearances. That is very encouraging, and not something that happened at all last year.
If this turnaround is to be believed, and if it can be carried into the regular season, much credit must go to both Williams and new hitting coach Matt Stairs, who has been working with Nick on quieting his head and making his swing less violent.
The true test will come once Williams leaves spring training. Will the lessons he’s learned and the progress he’s made disappear? Will he start hacking at everything in a desperate attempt to get to Philadelphia? Or will he continue to do the little things necessary to truly earn that call-up to the big leagues?
Regardless of what happens, we’ve seen over the last two days the talent and promise that exists in Nick Williams.
Now, we just need a larger sample size.