With MLB’s Spring Training just a few days away, it’s time to look at some of the Texas League’s elite prospects that will be taking the field at Dr Pepper Ballpark for the Frisco RoughRiders in 2015.
Today, we’ll turn our attention to outfielder Nick Williams.
Born in Galveston, Texas, Nick Williams starred for the Ball High Tornadoes, as well as for his summer league team, the Houston Banditos.
Playing year-round, as so many Division I college prospects do, helped to get the word out about his top-of-the-charts bat speed, which generates “light tower” power.
Williams had committed to play baseball for Texas A&M, but decided to turn pro instead, accepting the Texas Rangers‘ $500,000 signing bonus.
Williams was a 2012 Rawlings 1st Team All-American and was also an All Region 1st Team member.
Coming into the 2014 season, Williams was ranked as a top-100 prospect by both Baseball America (97) and Baseball Prospectus (88). During his first year of professional ball, he performed well at Rookie League Arizona, batting .313/.375/.448 with 27 RBI, but he showed a somewhat troubling strikeout to walk ratio of 50:16, in just 224 plate appearances.
Regardless, he displayed more than enough extra base power (6 triples, 9 doubles, 2 home runs) to warrant a promotion to Low-A Hickory of the South Atlantic League to start 2013.
At just 19, Williams smoked Low-A pitching, as he went .293/.337/.543 with 17 home runs and 60 RBI. But for the first time in his professional career, his raw instincts were exposed and he was thrown out a whopping 57% of the time during steal attempts, despite his plus speed.
In addition, despite strong peripheral numbers, a disproportionate amount of miss was discovered in his swing, as Low-A pitchers discovered they could get him to chase off-speed offerings that were out of the zone. All told, Williams fanned 110 times, against just 15 walks. This alarming strikeout rate was the main reason the Rangers decided to start off his 2014 season with him back at Rookie Ball.
In just 14 plate appearances, Williams showed improved strike zone discipline, striking out just twice. Thus, the Rangers promoted Williams to High-A Myrtle Beach, where he excelled over his 94 games, hitting .292/.343/.491 with 13 HRs and 68 RBI. He was caught stealing in 41% of his attempts, however, and still showed the nagging tendency to swing at all costs, striking out 117 times, while walking just 19 times.
Still, Williams’ talent more than warranted a promotion to the Double-A Frisco RoughRiders, toward the end of last season. Williams often looked over-matched, but held his own despite being over four years younger than the average Texas League ballplayer. Williams hit .226/.250/.290 with 21 strikeouts in just 64 plate appearances during his short stint with the RoughRiders.
Williams is an elite athlete, with a high, reachable ceiling should he improve his plate discipline.
If he can become more selective in the box, much as Joey Gallo did in the first half of last season, then Williams has a legitimate chance to reach his ceiling and become a future big league all-star.
Defensively, Williams has a below average arm, and his route running is erratic, so he projects as a fit for left field.
His well-above average speed (he has run a 6.5 60-yard dash) is neutralized because he doesn’t get quality jumps. This should improve with coaching, as well as with just getting more time to develop his base running instincts.
2015 is going to be a big year for Williams: he will get plenty of opportunities to contribute for the Frisco RoughRiders. Should he show improved pitch selection and base running instincts, there is little doubt that he will excel at Double-A and could prime himself for a major league debut in 2016.