When it became obvious this season wasn’t what we expected it to be, Phillies fans started getting restless for new blood. With the poor play at the major league level and the impressive play down in the system, it was only a matter of time before a few prospects broke through.
Nick Williams was the first position player to get the nod after Howie Kendrick landed on the disabled list in late June. Prior to his callup, Williams was hitting .280/.328/.511 with 15 home runs and 44 RBI in 78 games with Lehigh Valley. Since joining the team, the young outfielder has turned some heads. In 14 games, Williams is hitting .292/.327/.500 with two home runs and eight RBIs.
A big reason General Manager Matt Klentak had the confidence to bring up the left-hander was his improved approach – both at the plate and on the basepaths. In 2016, Williams walked just 19 times and struck out 136 times in almost 500 plate appearances for the IronPigs. After Klentak preached about players needing to “control the strike zone” this offseason, Williams heeded his advice. In half as many games as last year, Williams walked 16 times, eight in his last 13 games with the Pigs before being called up.
In his 14 games with the Phillies so far, he’s walked just two times but his improved pitch recognition is noticeable. None more so than on Sunday when he blasted the first pitch off of lefty reliever Tyler Webb in Sunday’s game against Milwaukee for his first-career grand slam. This was especially reassuring since it came off a lefty, something Williams has struggled with in the past. Last season in triple-A, Williams hit just .231 with a .571 OPS against lefties compared to a .273 average and .796 OPS vs. right-handers. This season in triple-A he improved to a .250 average with a .669 OPS against like-handed pitchers.
Even more so than his approach at the plate, Williams’ run game has improved drastically. Once deemed “lazy,” Williams has surprised Pete Mackanin and fans alike with his hustle on the bases. It’s not that he has gained speed per se, it’s simply that he has decided to actually run balls out. See that kids? Play hard and good things will happen.
So, what’s the future look like for Williams? There’s no doubt he’ll see most of the playing time from here on out, especially if Aaron Altherr is sidelined for longer than what is predicted.
Williams’ future past this season gets a bit murkier. If he continues this level of play, the Phillies’ front office will have some decisions to make. Right now they have Odubel Herrera, Aaron Altherr and Williams, as well as Dylan Cozens and Roman Quinn waiting in the shadows. And don’t forget last year’s No. 1 draft pick Mickey Moniak. He’s still a few years away but is sure to have a spot reserved for him, if he’s still here and playing admirably.
Combine the internal logjam with the rumors that have been swirling around about the team’s interest in Miami’s outfielders Christian Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton and it’s hard to predict where Williams stands. While they are just that – rumors – where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire.
The Phillies have been extremely patient with their prospects so it seems a bit odd that they would be willing to trade for additional outfielders when there are still untested internal options. If Williams has proven anything, it’s that sometimes the answer can very well be in your own backyard.