Former Phillies 2008 World Series hero Cole Hamels was traded last night for the second time in three years. The now 34-year-old lefty went from the Texas Rangers to the Chicago Cubs for a couple of lightly regarded prospects in what was more of a salary dump by Texas than anything else.
It was a far different deal than the one that went down at this time three years ago. On July 31, 2015 the Phillies sent their popular star pitcher to Texas in exchange for a huge six-prospect package. The package that Hamels was able to fetch at that time was filled with highly-rated youngsters to help bolster the rebuilding Phillies minor league system.
Acquiring such a large and attractive group of young talent was made possible in part because the Phillies also provided salary relief to Texas. They did so by taking on the contract of injured veteran pitcher Matt Harrison, who would never throw an inning in a Phillies uniform. Harrison’s contract hung a $30 million price tag on that package.
The final player acquired in that big haul was a then 21-year-old outfielder named Nick Williams. Full of promise, Williams had been the Rangers second round choice in the 2012 MLB Draft out of Ball High School in Galveston, Texas.
Williams spent the next couple of years following the trade by rising through the Phillies farm system. He spent the last few weeks of 2015 with AA Reading, then the entirety of the 2016 and start of the 2017 seasons at AAA Lehigh Valley.
A solid 2016 campaign in which Williams banged 33 doubles and 13 home runs seemed to be positioning him for a big league promotion with a floundering Phillies team. However, questions began to arise regarding his hustle and attitude.
During that season, each of the other prospects obtained in the Hamels deal spent time at the MLB level. Williams was the only one left behind, and he didn’t take it well. But to his credit, he would eventually learn and grow from the experience.
Prior to the opening of spring training in 2017, Williams was quoted by Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia:
“All of the guys that I was traded with ended up in the big leagues except me. But I realize that they were ready and I wasn’t. Last year was a huge learning experience for me — new organization, going to Triple A — and I did some dumb things, some immature things. I got benched for not running out a ball. I look back and I might have thought it was harsh, but it was my fault. I should have run the ball out. That’s what I call not respecting the game. It sucked, but I had to take the punishment. I did it. It was my fault.”
Williams began the 2017 season back with the IronPigs, but also with renewed energy and a sense of purpose. On June 30 it paid off with his own first promotion and taste of the big-league lifestyle. He has been with the Phillies from that point onward.
Entering his first full season in Major League Baseball this spring, it was expected that the lefty-swinging Williams would spend much of the year platooning in right field with the right-handed bat of Aaron Altherr. That was how it went for the better part of three months. There was even a stretch early on where Williams struggled and was briefly benched.
Altherr would end up struggling much more, and was ultimately sent back to the minors last week. This has left Williams as an everyday starter for the first time in his big league career. He seems to be making the most of this opportunity.
Last night, Williams was one of three hitters (Rhys Hoskins and Maikel Franco were the others) to bang a pair of home runs as the Phillies tied a club record with seven dingers. Those blasts powered the team to a 9-4 victory over the host Reds at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.
“It feels like we’re kids at recess right now,” Williams said per MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki following the outburst.
Per Zolecki, Statcast™ estimated that Williams’ home run in the ninth inning left the bat at 109.7mph and traveled a projected 431 feet. That made it the hardest and longest of the barrage of long balls driven out last night.
For Williams it was the continuation of what appears to be a genuine breakout. In a span of 35 games since June 14, the now 24-year-old has hit for a .308/.399/.533 slash, blasting seven homers and driving in 22 runs over his last 138 plate appearances.
As the Phillies approach the MLB non-waiver trade deadline there has been a great deal of speculation surrounding players that the team might try to add. But now many of the most hotly rumored names – Manny Machado, Cole Hamels, Zach Britton, J.A. Happ – have been taken off the board.
The Phillies have also been heavily linked to a few more bats. The most prominent name in recent days has been veteran Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones.
If the club is to bring in any outfielder in the coming days, odds are that it will be with the understanding that he is going to come off the bench for the most part. Right now, the Phillies outfield of Hoskins, Williams, and Odubel Herrera is producing.
If this indeed proves to be a true sustainable breakout by Williams, he will become a fixture in the starting lineup, and a key piece to this emerging playoff contender.
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