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► Reports and Scouting:
Role: First Division Regular
Risk: Medium – Williams’ approach holds him back, and he needs to walk more to have value. An improved approach should allow him to not only reach base more consistently, but also to better tap into his power. Williams won’t be a center fielder for the Phillies, but he should be very good fielder in a corner.
Summary: At the end of the day on August 1, Nick Williams was batting .286/.316/.468, with a 4.4% BB% and a 22.8% K%. From that day until the end of the season, he hit .161/.183/.286. He walked only once, and he struck out 42 times. It was an extreme outlier. Especially after Williams had only walked once in July, but also only struck out 17 times in 113 plate appearances. During his slump, the Phillies employed an outfield that included Odubel Herrera, Jimmy Paredes, Aaron Altherr, Peter Bourjos, Tyler Goeddel, Cody Asche, and Darin Ruf. The Phillies have indicated that much of Williams’ struggles came from him pressing to try and hit his way to Philly. This only exacerbated his already poor approach at the plate. His approach is the reason why Williams was still in AAA. Williams is an aggressive swinger, who will swing early in counts and expand the zone late in counts. Even when Williams is seeing the ball well and swinging at the right pitches, he rarely walks, because he has a good feel for making contact. Williams’ swing can get a bit long when he sells out for power, but he is normally short to the ball with strong, quick wrists that allow him to catch up to any pitch. Williams’ hands are especially strong inside, and he will pull them in on pitches in and drive the ball out of the park. Williams has at least plus raw power, but his swing is more geared for line drive contact, and he is at his best when lining the ball around the park. On the bases, Williams has plus speed, but he has yet to be a good base runner. In the outfield, Williams can play all three positions, though he is probably only fringe average in center field. He has the arm for right field, but his best fit is left field, where he should have plenty of defensive value. Williams is a high effort fielder and will lay out or run into walls for catches. His routes are not always the most crisp, but his speed and athleticism allow him to cover a lot of ground. Even though 2016 was a disappointment, Williams’ ceiling remains high. If he can use his raw tools to their peak, he could be a fringe all-star left fielder. If he can’t improve his approach, he might end up as a left handed Jeff Francoeur.
2017 Outlook: Williams will make a return to Lehigh Valley, where he will need to make improvements to his approach. If he can show growth, he will be in Philly by the middle of the season. If he is ready, Howie Kendrick shouldn’t be an obstacle.
Role: First Division Regular
Risk: Medium – Nick Williams is on the cusp of the major leagues, but he will still need to improve his approach at the plate at some point to have everything work.
Summary: With the top tier of hitting prospects off the table in Cole Hamels trades this winter, Nick Williams represented the best hitter available in trade this summer. It easy to knock Williams, because there are obvious flaws to his game, but his upside and ability are so huge that they may only knock him from being a superstar to just kind of average. At the plate, Williams has incredibly quick hands and feel for contact that allow him to make hard contact even when he is fooled. The bat speed, strong wrists, and strength give him at least plus power with some evaluators thinking there might be another grade there based on his batting practice performances. The big problem here is his approach at the plate, which leads to Williams watching hittable pitches go by and then swinging at the unhittable. His natural hitting ability has allowed his batting average to remain high even during these struggles. He made improvements in 2016, cutting his strikeouts way down, but his walk rate remains low. In the majors he is going to need to walk a bit more to provide value, but more than that he will need to improve his approach to maintain his high quality of contact. The other big stride Williams made in 2015 was making himself into a good defender in center field. With plus speed and a solid arm (plus strength and average accuracy and consistency) he has the makings of at least an average defender with room for a bit more. His routes can still be non-direct, but he has made noticeable improvements. If center field does not work, he could move to right field with his arm, but many think that left field is the best long term fit. In left he would be one of the better defenders at the position. Nick has the speed to steal 15-20 bases a year, but he still has struggled to have success on the base paths. Improving his instincts on the bases (both stealing and taking extra bases) will be a big part of his success going forward. Nick’s upside is immense as there is room for an Adam Jones like high average 30 HR 15 SB a year bat. Many of his struggles are reminiscent of Maikel Franco coming into the 2015 season, where his raw ability allows him to get away with making mistakes. Williams will need to work to channel his aggression and approach into hitting pitches that work for him. If he can do that, he should see his walk rate rise as pitchers respect his ability to hit almost any pitch, anywhere.
2016 Outlook: Williams will face the same test Franco had to in the soft tossers of AAA, and he will need to learn to lay off junk and crush mistakes. The Phillies would like to see him continue to play center field, even if his defense rates behind players like Herrera, Altherr, and Quinn, so he should have the everyday job in Lehigh Valley. Given his raw abilities, Williams should be forcing his way to Philly by the middle of the season, where he should be an important part of their future core.
What Happened: Nick Williams is the prize of the Cole Hamels trade because of what happened in the first half of this year. Williams has always had impressive coordination and feel for contact, but he was too aggressive and would swing at pitches he shouldn’t and put himself in bad hitting situations. This year he is working pitchers more by taking more pitches and getting into good counts, the result has been a sharp drop in strikeout rate and near doubling of his walk rate. On top of the contact, Williams has flashed plus or better raw power, plus speed, and this year the ability to handle center field.
What Next: Williams will go to Reading where it remains to be seen where the Phillies primarily play him. The big thing for Williams will be whether the gains made this year in the Texas system carry over to the Phillies system. If he can continue to grow he will arrive in Philly at a pace similar to J.P. Crawford.
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